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2016-17 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.  Among them are the many circuits and DCAs that design continuing education programs for select categories of their court personnel (e.g., court interpreters, staff attorneys, managers); the members of the Standing Committee on Fairness and Diversity; and several OSCA units (such as the Office of Court Education, the Office of Court Improvement, the Florida Dispute Resolution Center, the Court Services Unit, and the branch’s statewide ADA coordinator).  Readers can learn about this bounty of instructional offerings elsewhere in this annual report.

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 Office of Court Education, 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.  In Florida, continuing judicial education efforts were formalized in 1972; the Short History also includes an article on the History of Judiciary Education in Florida.) 

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 FCEC 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.

During the 2016 – 17 fiscal year, annual education programs were offered by the Florida Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges (81 participants, faculty, and staff), the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges (521 participants, faculty, and staff), and the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida (275 participants, faculty, and staff).  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 (157 participants, faculty, and staff); 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 (177 participants, faculty, and staff); 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 (21 participants, faculty, and staff).  Also during the 2016 – 17 fiscal year, 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 (443 participants, faculty, and staff).  The FCEC also sponsored a DUI Adjudication Lab (39 participants, faculty, and staff) and an education program for chief judges and trial court administrators (27 participants, faculty, and staff). 

Finally, the FCEC supported two Faculty Training courses, which are two-day trainings designed to teach judges how to be effective teachers of other judges (40 participants, faculty, and staff).  Annually, thanks to the judicial branch’s extensive roster of faculty-trained judges, the FCEC is able to offer hundreds of hours of in-house trainings that are tailored to the specifics of Florida law, which means that Florida’s judges are largely able to get the education and training they need in-state.

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 Office of Court Education, continues to develop education and training opportunities for employees who work within the courts system.

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 fiscal year 2016 – 17, three statewide events and 10 local events received funding assistance.  The Florida Court Personnel Committee’s big, statewide event is the Florida Court Personnel Institute.  A two-day program designed to accommodate the education needs of Florida’s court employees, the 2017 Florida Court Personnel Institute—the courts system’s sixth—offered four tracks: Language and Culture of Florida Courts; More than Litigation; Implementing the Long-Range Strategic Plan; and a Faculty Training course for those seeking to conduct trainings for other court employees (146 participants, faculty, and staff for the four tracks).  The other two statewide programs funded by the FCEC were the Florida Trial Court Staff Attorneys Conference (46 participants) and the Court ADA Coordinators Education Program (27 participants).  The 10 local training programs that received FCEC funding addressed topics like Communicating Effectively in the Workplace, Accountability in Action, Employee Management, Developing High Impact Teams, and the Ethics of Public Service for Court Staff (altogether, more than 800 court employees benefited from these local education events).  Also in the 2016 – 17 fiscal year, the FCEC supported the Trial Court Administrators Annual Education Program (28 participants) and the Appellate Clerks and Marshals Education Program (16 participants).   

Publications and Other Self-Learning Resources

To supplement the scope of training and education 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 and devise distance learning events.

The FCEC’s Publications Committee, with the assistance of OSCA’s Office of Court Education, worked steadily to strengthen its repository of online publications during the fiscal year.  Among those updated were An Aid to Understanding Canon 7, Baker Act Benchguide, Civil Jury Trial Benchbook, Criminal Benchguide for Circuit Judges, Domestic (Interpersonal) Violence Case Law Summaries (updated quarterly), Florida Benchguide on Court Interpreting, Florida Small Claims Rules Annotated, Fundamentals for Traffic Hearing Officers Manual, Judicial Ethics Benchguide, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions Topical Index (updated quarterly), Judicial Administration Benchguide, OSCA Employee Manual, Residential Foreclosure Benchguide, Small Claims Survival Guide, Traffic Hearing Officer Manual, and Traffic-Related Appellate Opinion Summaries (prepared quarterly).

In addition, the Office of Court Education is actively expanding distance learning opportunities.  The office is committed to a blended learning model that utilizes online learning to augment in-person learning experiences.  To this end, the office again partnered with the National Judicial College to offer no-cost webcasts on various topics.  It also updated its web-based Fundamentals for Family Court Judges course (offered on demand to all new and rotating family court judges).  The office continues to enhance its distance learning infrastructure and plans to offer more distance learning events in the future.

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