Panel rejects judicial circuit consolidation

By a unanimous vote, the Judicial Circuit Assessment Committee will recommend that none of the state’s 20 jurisdictions should be combined.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz.
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The Judicial Circuit Assessment Committee rejected consolidation of some of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits.

In a virtual meeting Nov. 3, the members voted 14-0 in favor of a motion to recommend to the state Supreme Court that no action be taken to combine any of the circuits.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Muniz seated the panel in June in response to state House of Representatives Speaker Paul Renner’s suggestion that consolidating some of the circuits might lead to greater efficiencies and uniformity in the judicial process, thereby increasing public trust and confidence.

“I also believe that the consolidation of circuits would result in improved economies of scale in the judiciary’s back-office operations, leading to substantial cost savings for Florida’s taxpayers,” Renner said in a letter to Muniz.

Reaction from legal professionals, the public and elected officials received by the committee is almost entirely against consolidation of circuits.

The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners and the Port St. Joe City Commission adopted resolutions opposing circuit consolidation in their jurisdictions.

“The interests of not only Section members and the Florida trial Bar at large, but essentially all of the consumers of civil legal services in Florida is at stake. The number of judicial circuits currently serving as Florida’s judiciary would not benefit from consolidation or reduction in number,” The Florida Bar Trial Lawyers Section said in a letter to Jonathan Gerber, 4th District Court of Appeal judge and committee chair, and the committee.

Locally, the Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP expressed its opposition to consolidation of judicial circuits in a letter to State Attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit Melissa Nelson, a member of the committee.

“It’s crucial to note that this proposed consolidation will adversely affect a substantial number of constituents. As of the last census numbers, the Fourth Circuit Court in Florida, which includes Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, served approximately 1.8 million residents. Disenfranchising such a significant number of people goes against the mission and vision of the NAACP, which is committed to ensuring the rights and equality of all individuals,” branch President Isaiah Rumlin said in the letter.

Since July, the committee surveyed more than 7,000 members of the legal community and the public and conducted public hearings in Orlando and Tampa to hear testimony about the proposed consolidation.

“Arguments in favor of consolidation were few and far between,” Gerber said at the Nov. 3 meeting.

The committee will convene on Zoom at 11 a.m. Nov. 17 to review the draft of its report, which must be submitted to the court by Dec. 1.

Visit to register to view the livestream of the meeting.