Budget Shortfalls Threaten Court Operations

A sudden drop in foreclosure filings has resulted in a dramatic budget shortfall for Florida’s Courts, leading to possible Court shutdowns in the coming months.  Anyone dealing with the Florida Courts on a regular basis is already aware of the delays and hassles caused by previous budget cuts.  It looks like things may get worse.  From the St. Pete Times:


Gov. Rick Scott approves $14 million transfer to help courts, but not loan request

Gov. Rick Scott has refused to approve a loan Florida courts need to keep operating through the end of June.

In a letter delivered to Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady on Tuesday, Scott said he would approve the transfer of $14 million in trust fund money from court-related funds in hopes of keeping the courts going through April, but wants more time to study a request for a $28 million loan from other state funds.
In a letter written by Scott’s budget director, Jerry L. McDaniel, the governor’s office said the delay in approving the court’s request will provide the governor’s office an opportunity to better understand the factors that led to this deficit, the steps taken by the courts to reduce costs and recommendations for avoiding a similar shortfall next year.
Canady says a dramatic drop in the number of mortgage foreclosure suits filed in Florida has created a financial emergency that could jeopardize the entire court system.

The court needs $72.3 million in emergency funds to keep operating through the end of the current budget year ending June 30. Canady said the courts already face an $8 million deficit by the end of March.
The annual $462 million budget for the court system anticipates spending about $38.5 million a month, far less than the $14 million the governor is allowing for the remainder of March and all of April. Canady says the crisis is likely to lead to unpaid furloughs for court employees and serious delays in litigation.

Asked about the court’s request at a press availability Tuesday, Scott said he had just learned of the request. “We’re getting up to speed on it, and then I’ll make a decision,’’ Scott said.

Francel v. Gries Investment Fund, LLC, 36 Fla. L. Wkly. D256 (Fla. 2d DCA Feb. 2, 2011)

Parties to lawsuit had executed a stock buyback agreement, which the defendant had refused to perform. The Plaintiff moved for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 1.510 and the defendant submitted affidavits in opposition to the motion. The Motion for Summary Judgment was granted and the Defendant appealed. The Second District Court of Appeal overturned the trial court’s decision. finding that the affidavits submitted created an issue of material fact as to one or more of the affirmative defenses raised by the Defendant.

This page has also been added to the Florida Legal Wiki.

Proposed Changes to Supreme Court’s Rulemaking Authority

Two bills have been filed with the Legislature that would change the rule making authority of the Florida Supreme Court.  Staff analyses can be found on The Florida Bar’s Rules of Judicial Administration Committee’s webpage. These measures are likely to be scheduled for discussion by the House Judiciary Committee as soon as next week.  

From the Florida Bar:  

The Florida Bar has long opposed any changes to the current rule-making processes of the Supreme Court of Florida.  These two bills – a proposed state constitutional amendment to rewrite Article V, Section 2, plus companion statutory revisions – would drastically change the Supreme Court’s rulemaking authority and fundamentally alter the structure of Florida’s government.     

The 15-member House Civil Justice Subcommittee (composed of 14 lawyers) has already heard these arguments from Bar representatives.  Yet, that subgroup proposed these changes and, last week, voted 13-2 & 15-0 respectively to move both these measures forward. 

Article V, Section 2 presently gives the Supreme Court jurisdiction over procedural rules unless a rule is repealed by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.  The proposed HJR would give that authority to the Legislature, with a proviso that the court “may” play an advisory role to be set forth in statute.  The second bill spells out how this would work, with the court heading a judicial conference of 10 subcommittees that would recommend rules to the Supreme Court annually, no later than August 1.  The Supreme Court would then submit rules proposals to the legislature by the first business day of December. If the legislature did not act on those proposals, they would become rules effective July 1 of the following year. 

Legislator proponents of this change claim there is presently no meaningful check on the court’s rulemaking power, and that Supreme Court justices themselves have noted the difficulties in discerning procedure from substance in the “twilight zone” of rulemaking.   The Florida Chamber of Commerce already supports this effort and says it could lead to a more stable environment for the business community.   

Some journalists view these bills as merely part of a broader legislative effort to diminish the judiciary’s overall power.  But, to The Florida Bar, these issues really seem to be more about comity and co-equality among our state’s branches of government, fair play, respect for the judiciary, and perhaps attempting to find better ways for both branches to resolve their rather isolated instances of disagreement.   

Supporters of this legislation further say these bills are meant to mirror the effective federal system of court rulemaking which features ultimate legislative control over the process.  The federal system is unique to our 1787 U.S. Constitution, likely more costly to taxpayers than current rulemaking, and may unnecessarily involve many more state judges in the process.

Please do two things – now!

1.  Continue to help the Bar constructively speak to these proposals.  The legislature’s staff analyses of Florida’s current processes seem to present only one view of rulemaking.  Help us say more about the court opinions they’ve highlighted in each analysis, and the good things about our present system.  

2.  Please contact House Judiciary Committee members immediately and voice your concerns about CVJ1 & CVJ2.  All these legislators need to know your sentiments..

House Judiciary Committee

William D. Snyder (R – Stuart) Chair  850-488-8832

Charles McBurney (R – Jacksonville) Democratic Ranking Member Vice Chair  850-488-4171

Ari Porth (D – Coral Springs) 850-488-2124

Dennis Baxley (R – Ocala)  850-488-0335

Daphne Campbell (D – Miami)  850-488-4233

Eric Eisnaugle (R – Orlando)  850-488-9770

Matt Gaetz (R – Fort Walton Beach)  850-488-1170

Tom Goodson (R – Rockledge)  850-488-3006

Bill Hager (R – Boca Raton)  850-488-2234

Shawn Harrison (R – Tampa)  850-488-3087

John Patrick Julien (D – North Miami Beach)  850-488-7088

Larry Metz (R – Yalaha)  850-488-0348

Kathleen Passidomo (R – Naples)  850-488-4487

Ray Pilon (R – Sarasota)  850-488-7754

Elaine Schwartz (D – Hollywood)  850-488-0465

Darren Soto (D – Orlando)  850-488-9240

Richard Steinberg (D – Miami Beach)  850-488-0690

Gregory Steube (R – Parrish)  850-488-6341