Legislature proposes study of Supreme Court workload

first_imgLegislature proposes study of Supreme Court workload Gary Blankenship Associate Editor A proposal to expand the Florida Supreme Court by two justices and allow the Governor to select the chief justice appears dead in the Florida Legislature this year. But chances appear good for an alternate proposal to create a special commission to study the court’s workload. The House Judiciary Committee on April 11 approved adding to a court funding bill an amendment creating the Supreme Court Workload Study Commission. The overall bill addresses the constitutional mandate from voters in 1998 that the state assume more funding of trial courts from counties. “I felt this was a better way to examine the court’s workload without any preconceived notion this was driven by an ideological difference with the court,” said Rep. Dudley Goodlette, R-Naples, who first pushed for expanding the court and then sought the amendment creating the new commission. “This state commission will help us determine whether there is a workload crisis. If it’s not broken, we’re not going to break it.” The original proposal, which would have sent a constitutional amendment to voters this fall to enlarge the court, was criticized as an attempt by Republicans to strike back at the court because of decisions it had made. Goodlette, however, steadfastly maintained both the original bill and the new commission are nonpolitical attempts to see if the court is becoming overwhelmed by its workload. He noted last year the number of issued opinions decreased significantly while the number of cases pending at the end of its session noticeably rose. “The only motivation here is examining the workload,” he said after the committee acted. “They [justices] should look at it as helpful, as the legislature exercising its constitutional responsibility.” Goodlette told the committee that while the constitution requires the Supreme Court to look at the workload of trial and districts courts and recommend new judges, it is prohibited from doing that for itself. That leaves it up to the legislature. “What this proposed amendment. . . will do is give us some more time to look into those workload issues,” he said. “I am convinced. . . that it is indeed appropriate to look at the workload of the Florida Supreme Court.” The amendment creates a seven-member Supreme Court Workload Study Commission. The Speaker of the House and Senate President each appoint three members, including one member each of their respective chambers and at least one lawyer each. The seventh member, who will preside over the commission, will be a former justice selected by the chief justice. Commission members are to be named by July 15, and the commission is to submit its report to lawmakers no later than February 15, 2001, and then go out of business. The bill requires the Office of the State Courts Administrator, in consultation with the legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, to study the workload of each justice for a three-month period and report to the commission by October 15. The study “shall reflect the number of hours spent by each justice working on cases categorized by type of case,” according to the bill. Goodlette said he had discussed his amendment with Sen. John Laurent, R-Bartow, and Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Ft. Lauderdale, who are shepherding the Senate’s court funding bill, SB 1212, through that chamber. He said they supported the alteration and would be adding it to SB 1212. The amendment was attached to the Judiciary Committee’s PCB 12, now HB 2381, which seeks to implement the constitutional amendment approved by voters in November 1998. That amendment requires the state and court clerks to take over more funding of the trial courts from counties. The bill, drafted by a joint House-Senate committee, sets out a time schedule for phasing in the funding change, which must be completed by July 1, 2004, and definitions of various court functions. It also authorizes money for small counties facing expensive criminal prosecutions and for some conflict criminal defense counsel. SB 1212 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 5. After the House Judiciary Committee passed PCB 12, it tabled PCB 14, which was the amendment to expand the court. Passage was already questionable because a similar bill in the Senate had been withdrawn, making it unlikely to be considered by the upper chamber. Legislature proposes study of Supreme Court workload April 30, 2000 Regular Newslast_img

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