FLORIDA BAR PRESIDENT: Filing Fees Can't Sustain Courts

Daytona Beach News Journal
Jay Stapleton, Staff Writer
November 10, 2011

DAYTONA BEACH -- The head of The Florida Bar on Wednesday shared details of a proposal to stabilize funding in the state court system.

Photo right: Florida Bar President Scott Hawkins speaks to the News-Journal editorial board on Wednesday. (N-J | David Massey)

Scott G. Hawkins, who is president of The Florida Bar and an attorney in private practice in West Palm Beach, spoke to The Daytona Beach News-Journal's editorial board about the plan by a workgroup to eliminate cash flow problems for judicial funding.
"The courts didn't create the problem," Hawkins told editorial board members. "We are essentially inheriting the problem."
Sandra C. Upchurch, a mediation lawyer in Daytona Beach and local representative of the Florida Board of Governors, joined in the discussion.

Two months ago, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady wrote Gov. Rick Scott and other legislative budget commission members to warn of a projected $108 million shortfall in the court system for the current fiscal year. Canady asked for $45.6 million to keep courts running through March.

The Legislature directed judges and clerks to come up with suggestions to fix the problem, resulting in the workgroup recommendations.

Chief Judge Richard Orfinger of the 5th District Court of Appeal was one of the judges who worked on presenting solutions to stabilize court funding next year.

The budget shortfall, Hawkins said, was caused by an overdependence on mortgage foreclosures. The filing of foreclosures bring in more revenue than other types of cases, but remain volatile. There were many less foreclosures filed than expected, contributing to a lack of funds.

"It was anticipated that the number of foreclosures would grow," Hawkins said. "I'm not faulting the premise, but unfortunately, the premise has not panned out."

Turning his attention on plans to stabilize the funding, Hawkins said he had confidence the Legislature is receptive. Among recommendations to fix the problem, the workshop suggests salaries for judges, court reporters and interpreters should be paid from the general revenue fund, rather than from a fund comprised of court costs.

Court revenues should be used for court funding needs first, and then distributed to other government needs. An operating reserve for the courts to address cash flow problems would also alleviate the need to borrow money later, Hawkins said. "If you get a way to stabilize funding, we feel pretty confident they won't have to borrow it later," he said.

Hawkins also discussed a concern that political groups pushing one issue or another might target the retention of certain Florida Supreme Court judges. Next November, Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente and Peggy A. Quince will be up for merit retention.

One of the points The Florida Bar wants to make, Hawkins said, is "if you are going to assess a judge, it is fair to look at one particular ruling or do you assess a body of work?"

The electronic age and proliferation of social media has created a potential for attack campaigns against judges, Upchurch said. Rules prohibit judges from publicly addressing such campaign tactics.
"We've seen the growth of Occupy Daytona and everything gets fired up pretty quickly," she said.

Hawkins said an important role of The Florida Bar is to educate the public on issues important to the courts.

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