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Home | Publications & Statistics | Publications | 2015-16 Annual Report | Maintaining a Professional Judiciary & Workforce

2015-16 Annual Report

Issue 5: Maintain a Professional, Ethical, & Skilled Judiciary & Workforce

Long-Range Strategic Plan for the Judicial Branch of Florida 2016-2021
Justice depends on the competence and quality of judges and court employees.  These professionals handle complex legal issues and court procedures, address difficult legal and ethical issues, and face increased expectations from court users.  Providing advanced levels of education and development will enable those who work within the courts system to effectively perform the challenging work of the courts and meet the needs of those whom they serve.

To meet the demands of justice in the twenty-first century, judicial officers and court staff must have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to serve and perform at the highest professional levels. Recognizing this imperative, the long-range plan recommends that the branch “provide timely education and training to judges and court employees to ensure high-level performance.”

Page Contents:


Education for Judges, Quasi-Judicial Officers, and Court Personnel

Various entities within the judicial branch are committed to developing high-quality education and training opportunities for the people who work in Florida’s courts, making efficient and effective use of limited funding and staff resources.  For instance, members of the Standing Committee on Fairness and Diversity, with the help of the courts system’s 26 diversity teams and the judges who have become certified diversity trainers, offer diversity trainings to local, regional, and statewide audiences.  In addition, many circuits and DCAs design continuing education programs for select categories of their court personnel (e.g., court interpreters, staff attorneys, managers).  Moreover, several OSCA units develop or facilitate education programs for judges, court personnel, and justice system partners across the state: for example, the Office of Court Improvement regularly coordinates live education opportunities as well as web-based trainings for family court and problem-solving court professionals; the Florida Dispute Resolution Center facilitates an annual statewide conference for mediators and also conducts county mediation training programs and continuing mediation education trainings across the state each year; the Court Services Unit routinely offers orientation workshops and administers written and oral language exams for foreign language interpreters seeking to interpret for the courts; and the branch’s statewide ADA coordinator organizes statewide education programs for the circuit and appellate courts’ ADA coordinators.  Readers can learn about this bounty of instructional offerings elsewhere in this annual report.

During phase one of the Florida Judicial College, trial court judges who are new to the bench, as well as new general magistrates and child support enforcement hearing officers, learn about Communication Skills: The Art of Judging from Judge Kathleen Kroll, Fifteenth Circuit. During phase one of the Florida Judicial College, trial court judges who are new to the bench, as well as new general magistrates and child support enforcement hearing officers, learn about Communication Skills: The Art of Judging from Judge Kathleen Kroll, Fifteenth Circuit.

This section of the report focuses on the education programs and resources supported by the Florida Court Education Council (FCEC), which was established by the supreme court in 1978 to coordinate and oversee the creation and maintenance of a comprehensive education program for judges and some court personnel groups and to manage the budget that sustains these ventures.  Chaired by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, the council, with the support of OSCA’s Court Education Section, provides continuing education through live programs, both statewide and local, and through distance learning events, publications, and other self-learning resources.  For additional background on court education in Florida, please see the Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives (Page 55 - PDF version); also available in this document is a History of Judiciary Education in Florida (Page 58 - PDF version). 

Education for Judges and Quasi-Judicial Officers

Judges are required to earn a minimum of 30 approved credit hours of continuing judicial education every three years, and new judges have to satisfy additional requirements.  To help judges meet their education obligations, the Florida Court Education Council works closely each year with the leaders of the three judicial conferences—the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida, the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges, and the Florida Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges—and the two judicial colleges—the Florida Judicial College and the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies.

Collegiality is one of the many topics addressed at the New Appellate Judges Program; talking about it here (l – r) are Judge Kevin Emas, Third DCA; Judge Nelly Khouzam, Second DCA; Judge Kent Wetherell, First DCA; and Judge Spencer Levine, Fourth DCA. Collegiality is one of the many topics addressed at the New Appellate Judges Program; talking about it here (l – r) are Judge Kevin Emas, Third DCA; Judge Nelly Khouzam, Second DCA; Judge Kent Wetherell, First DCA; and Judge Spencer Levine, Fourth DCA.

During the 2015 – 16 FY, annual education programs were offered by the Florida Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges (64 participants), the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges (437 participants), and the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida (284 participants).  In addition, the Florida Judicial College, designed for trial court judges who are new to the bench as well as all new general magistrates and child support enforcement hearing officers, facilitated its three-phase program: Phase I is a pre-bench program that includes a series of orientation sessions and a trial skills workshop (47 attendees); Phase II focuses on more substantive and procedural matters and includes a “Fundamentals” portion for judges who are preparing to rotate to a new division (86 attendees); the third phase consists of a year-long mentoring program for new judges.  The Florida Judicial College also offered its New Appellate Judges Program for the judges new to the appellate bench (five participants).  Also during the 2015 – 16 FY, judges and quasi-judicial officers could apply to attend the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies, a comprehensive continuing judicial education program for those seeking to hone existing skills or to delve deeply into a subject matter area (292 judges and quasi-judicial officers attended).  The FCEC also sponsored a DUI Adjudication Lab (12 attendees).  And it also supported two Faculty Training Courses, which are two-day trainings designed to teach judges how to be effective teachers of other judges (27 attendees altogether); thanks to the extensive roster of faculty-trained judges, judicial education leaders are able to offer the hundreds of hours of continuing judicial education needed each year. 

Education for Court Personnel

The long-range plan emphasizes that, like judges, court employees should receive timely education and training to ensure high-level performance.  To meet this goal, the FCEC’s Florida Court Personnel Committee, chaired by Judge Angela Cowden, Tenth Circuit, with the support of OSCA’s Court Education Section, continues to develop education and training opportunities for employees who work within the courts system.

Diversity Faculty Training was one of four tracks offered at the 2016 Florida Court Personnel Institute; pictured here are the attendees with the instructors: Judge Scott Bernstein, Eleventh Circuit; Judge Peter Estrada, Tenth Circuit; Judge Claudia Isom, Thirteenth Circuit; and Ms Michelle Seabrooks, Human Resource Officer with OSCA. Diversity Faculty Training was one of four tracks offered at the 2016 Florida Court Personnel Institute; pictured here are the attendees with the instructors: Judge Scott Bernstein, Eleventh Circuit; Judge Peter Estrada, Tenth Circuit; Judge Claudia Isom, Thirteenth Circuit; and Ms Michelle Seabrooks, Human Resource Officer with OSCA.

Since 2008, the FCEC has provided funding for numerous statewide education initiatives for court personnel groups as well as funding assistance to support local education programs developed by court personnel.  In FY 2015 – 16, four statewide events and nine local events received funding assistance.  The Florida Court Personnel Committee’s big, statewide event is the Florida Court Personnel Institute.  A two-day program tailored to the education needs of Florida’s court employees, the 2016 Florida Court Personnel Institute offered four tracks: Advanced Leadership in Practice, Effectively Communicating in the Modern Workplace, Making the Most of Communication, and Diversity Faculty Training (for those seeking to conduct diversity trainings for other court employees); altogether, 103 court personnel participated in this institute; the 2017 program, which took place in February and was attended by 106 court employees, marked the sixth consecutive year in which the institute has been offered.  The other three statewide programs funded by the FCEC in FY 2015 – 16 were the Florida Trial Court Staff Attorneys Conference (19 attendees), the Judicial Assistants Association of Florida Conference (42 attendees), and the Court Community Communication Program (32 participated in this training for Florida court public information officers).  The nine local training programs that received FCEC funding addressed topics like cross-cultural communication, essential skills for managers, essential interpersonal skills for court staff, moving beyond diversity, court purposes and processes, and purposes and responsibilities of courts; altogether, 592 court employees benefited from these local education events.  Also in FY 2015 – 16, the FCEC supported the Trial Court Administrators Annual Education Program (31 attendees), the Appellate Marshals Education Program (three attendees), and the Appellate Clerks Education Program (four attendees).    

Publications and Other Self-Learning Resources

To supplement the scope of training and educational offerings for judges and court personnel, the long-range plan recommends that the branch “develop technology-based approaches to complement existing education programs for judges and court employees.”  To help the courts system achieve this goal, the FCEC supports judicial and staff efforts to develop new court education publications, update existing ones, devise distance learning events, and expand the online Court Education Resource Library.

Florida Court Education Council Publications logoThe FCEC’s Publications Committee, with the assistance of OSCA’s Court Education Section, worked steadily to boost its repository of online publications during the 2015 – 16 FY.  Among those updated were A Judge’s Guide to the Practices, Procedures, and Appropriate Use of General Magistrates, Child Support Enforcement Hearing Officers, and Special Magistrates Serving Within the Florida State Courts System; An Aid to Understanding Canon 7; Civil Jury Trial Benchbook; Contempt Benchguide; Criminal Benchguide for Circuit Judges; Disqualification and Recusal Benchguide; Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: Topical Index; Judicial Administration Benchguide; OSCA Employee Manual; and Small Claims Survival Guide.  Since then, a number of other publications have been updated, including the Baker Act Benchguide, Civil Jury Trial Benchbook, Duty Judge Benchbook, Fundamentals for Traffic Hearing Officers Manual, Judicial Ethics Benchguide, and Residential Foreclosure Benchbook.  Moreover, on a quarterly basis, the committee continues to produce its cumulative and indexed Domestic Violence Case Law Summaries and its Traffic-Related Appellate Opinion Summaries.   

Resource Library logoIn addition, distance education was available on the following topics: Judicial Ethics, Perceptions of Bias and Fairness; Stereotypes and Misconceptions; Virtual Court for Domestic Violence; Dependency Court Shelter Hearings; Human Trafficking; Managing the Mediation Process Using Psychogeography;  and Fundamentals for Family Court Judges.

The Publications Committee also continues to build the online Court Education Resource Library, which provides browsers with access to a range of educational materials: links to publications and other materials prepared by the committee and various OSCA units; materials from live court education programs and other education events; and useful articles, curricula, handbooks and reports from other state and national organizations. 

Finally, at the Publications Committee’s direction, OSCA completed the development and preliminary testing of a responsive user interface to serve as an additional entry point into the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opinions posted on the Sixth Judicial Circuit’s website.  This interface was designed specifically for access by mobile devices (smart phones, tablets, etc.).  The interface can be accessed at http://mobile.flcourts.org/jeac/.