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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Dec. 26, 201212:00 PM EST

Florida Supreme Court: Courts need 63 new judges

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by: David Royse

Foreclosures continue to clog courtrooms and judges have to take on the work that former staff used to do, leading the Supreme Court to say last week that 63 new judges and one new appeals court judge are needed in the state.

The court noted it's not as bad as it could be because crime is down and a drop in juvenile delinquency filings is expected with changes being made by state juvenile justice officials.

The court also noted lawmakers provided extra money last year that allowed the courts to bring in more judges, and there also is money from a national mortgage settlement agreement.

But there's still a need for more judges, although the court acknowledged it's not like there's plenty of money.

"We observe that state revenues, while gradually improving, continue to lag, thereby creating competition between funding new judgeships and attending to other critical state needs," the court said in its opinion certifying the need for additional judges.

"Yet, as we have noted in previous opinions, our judges and court staff continue to work conscientiously to administer justice and resolve disputes promptly. They do so despite a demonstrated need for new judges and with a smaller staffing complement."

It also referred to mortgage foreclosures.

The "workload associated with the residential mortgage foreclosure crisis continues to impede disposition times and rates in our circuit civil divisions," the court said.

A bigger problem might be that recent cuts in court staff for budget reasons have meant judges face more work formerly performed by staffers.

"Several of the chief judges cited problems of fewer staff to assist with case processing matters," the court said.

"Our judges continue to absorb the work previously performed by case managers, law clerks, magistrates, and other supplemental support staff lost in the budget reductions of recent years," it said.

After examining case data and judicial workload, and looking at a three-year average need, the court said it officially was certifying the need for 16 new circuit judges and 47 county court judges.

The court also said the 2nd District Court of Appeal needs one more judge, although the appeals court had asked for two.

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