Saturday, February 19, 2011

Supreme Court seeks 80 more Fla. trial judges

he Florida Supreme Court asked the Legislature on Thursday for 80 more trial judges, saying their workloads have increased in part because their support staffs have been reduced to save money.

The justices conceded the state's dire financial situation likely will mean a fifth year with no additional positions although caseloads have grown including an avalanche of foreclosure filings. They asked for 90 new positions last year and got none.

The staff reductions plus more filings mean judges have less time to spend on each case. Some judges say that means the quality of justice has suffered.

"We find that observation troubling," the justices wrote in the unanimous but unsigned opinion.

The Florida Constitution requires the Supreme Court to annually certify the need, if any, for additional judges. The high court bases its recommendations on a formula that takes into account caseload and the time judges need to resolve various kinds of cases.

No new trial judgeships and only one appellate position were created in the past four budget years. That leaves Florida with 61 appellate, 599 circuit and 322 trial judges.

The opinion notes the court system has lost 249 staff positions due to budget cuts over the past several years.

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