An era of Florida legal history that began in 1957 came to an end Nov. 2 when the 1st District Court of Appeal traveled to Jacksonville from its headquarters in Tallahassee to hear oral arguments at the Duval County Courthouse.
It was the 1st DCA’s final visit before Jan. 1 after which 4th Circuit cases on appeal will be before the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.
The court heard oral arguments in two cases, then convened a ceremonial session to mark the transition.
“It is a bittersweet occasion for us who have served on the court to sit here for the last time among friends,” 1st DCA Chief Judge Lori Rowe said to open the ceremonial proceeding.
Florida’s appellate district court system was established by the state Legislature in 1957; the first session in Jacksonville was convened in September of that year.
The state Legislature in its 2022 session authorized establishment of a new appellate court district, the 6th District Court of Appeal.
The two 1st DCA judges from the 4th Circuit – Scott Makar and Harvey Jay III – will be transferred to the 5th DCA.
Former 1st DCA Chief Judge Joseph Lewis Jr. cited Makar’s scholarly reputation as a jurist.
“He makes more people reach for a dictionary than anyone,” Lewis said.
Lewis said Jay is known for his “sharp eye and insightful analysis” and “our loss will be the 5th DCA’s gain.”
Former 1st DCA Chief Judge Clayton Roberts recalled the long relationship between the 1st DCA and the 4th Judicial Circuit.
Roberts said he met 4th Circuit Chief Judge Mark Mahon after the 2000 election when Roberts was helping rewrite Florida’s election laws and Mahon was a freshman legislator, having just been elected to the state House of Representatives.
“We lobbied together for court funding and new courthouses and courtroom interpreters. He is a cross between Oliver Wendell Holmes and Jerry Seinfeld. I appreciated his wise counsel and funny stories,” Roberts said.
“This is the end of a cherished part of our court history. There is a rich history of collaboration with the 4th Judicial Circuit,” said 1st DCA Judge Stephanie Ray, who was chief judge in 2019-21.
At the conclusion of the ceremonial session, Mahon was presented a framed memorial depicting the judges from the 4th Circuit who also sat on the 1st DCA in the past 65 years.
After the session adjourned, the Jacksonville Bar Association and the 1st DCA Inns of Court presented a lunch-and-learn CLE program in the Jury Assembly Room at the courthouse to provide an overview of how the transition will be conducted for local attorneys and judges.
Fifth DCA Chief Judge Brian Lambert said the court began preparing for the transition as soon as it was approved by the Legislature.
As of Jan. 1, the 5th DCA will have six new judges – Makar and Jay and four judges who will be appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace the four 5th DCA jurists who are transferring to the new 6th DCA.
“We will have to get used to each other as a brand new court. My intent is to get the train on the track as soon as possible,” Lambert said.
With so many new faces on the bench, Lambert said the 5th DCA will honor its traditions, but also will be open to suggestions from the new judges.
“Our ultimate goal is to best serve the lawyers and the litigants and get the best decision, subject to Supreme Court review. We are certainly amenable to listening. If it’s time for a change, it’s time for a change,” Lambert said.