2018 Court News Events

The Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) provides information and brief write-ups about newsworthy events happening in and around the Florida court system. 

Florida Courts will be closed Monday, May 28, in observance of Memorial Day. Courts will re-open on Tuesday, May 29.   

Recent News & Updates

Previous News from 2018 

Judicial Campaign Conduct Forums

Instituted in 1998, Judicial Campaign Conduct Forums are generally offered in the spring of election years for circuits in which a contested judicial election will be taking place.  These 90-minute forums focus on the necessity for integrity and professionalism among candidates for judicial office, the impact of campaign conduct on public trust and confidence in the justice system, and the dire consequences of violating Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which governs political conduct by judges and judicial candidates.  The forums are coordinated by the supreme court, the trial court chief judges, the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar.  (To learn more about the standards for ethical behavior governing judicial candidates, see An Aid to Understanding Canon 7, prepared by the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.) 

This year, the forums are scheduled Thursday and Friday, May 10 and 11th, in ten cities throughout the state.  The Thursday forums will take place in Jacksonville, Miami, Pensacola, Tampa, and West Palm Beach; the Friday forums will be held in Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers, Gainesville, Orlando, and Tallahassee.  The forums will begin at 1:00 P.M. 

All judicial candidates seeking contested seats or facing active opposition are encouraged to attend, and the forums are also open to campaign managers and their staff, local political party chairs, presidents of local bar associations, the media, and the public.   (Take this link to read the press release.)  

(posted May 2018) / Return to top of page 

State Courts Administrator PK Jameson Highlights Law Day in a New Video Feature

Law Day has been marked on May 1 every year since 1958, when President Dwight Eisenhower declared the first observance of Law Day honoring the nation’s heritage of liberty, justice, and equality under the law.

State Courts Administrator PK Jameson opens a new video feature on Florida courts work by highlighting Law Day and other initiatives underway now.

Law Day and Law Week are also designated in Florida statutes. Law week is marked during the week containing May 1.

This year, the American Bar Association has selected the Separation of Powers as the theme for Law Week. The system of checks on balances on power among the government’s three branches is a defining element of the American Republic. It was recognized by those drafting the Constitution as a vital part of their work, commented on in the Federalist Papers as the nation’s foundational legal document was being considered.

“In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent, is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted, that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others,” James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, first published in 1788.

Separation of powers among branches was essential at the time of the country’s founding and it remains of great importance to protect it today.

“We the people must continually act to ensure that our constitutional democracy endures, preserving our liberties and advancing our rights,” according to the American Bar Association material. ”The Law Day 2018 theme enables us to reflect on the separation of powers as fundamental to our constitutional purpose and to consider how our governmental system is working for ourselves and our posterity.”

You can see more about this year’s theme at the ABA’s website

(posted May 2018) / Return to top of page 

Helping New Appellate Judges Prepare for Judicial Service

By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

“Welcome to the best job in the world,” Chief Justice Labarga has been known to exclaim as he greets the judges who are about to take part in the three-day New Appellate Judges Program.  What makes this job “the best,” he explains, is that appellate judges, working together in panels, have the opportunity for thoughtful review of the decisions of the lower tribunals; they “have time to think, time to contemplate” their decisions.  Because this work situation is unique to the appellate courts, all new appointees, whether they come directly from the practice of law or from the trial court bench, benefit from assistance with transitioning to judicial service on the appellate bench.  And that is what the New Appellate Judges Program seeks to provide.  Offered annually, this dynamic judicial education program was established in 1991, and attendance is required by all new appellate judges. 

After the chief justice’s welcome, the appellate dean of the program and one of its lead faculty members, Chief Judge Jonathan Gerber, Fourth DCA, sets the stage for the demanding agenda upon which participants are about to embark.  He likens the program to a “discussion” about matters of relevance and concern to appellate judges, stressing that the program is decidedly “not prescriptive.”  Rather, it “gives you things to think about” and opportunities to share “ideas with the different faculty members and your colleagues here”—but, in the end, “you must decide what works best for you.”  He assures attendees that, for those who seek to learn “how I can do my job better, this program will help.”

Indeed, the curriculum for this education program, consisting of a balance of lecture-style sessions and participatory learning experiences, gives attendees many opportunities to absorb, analyze, discuss, and put to the test practices designed to help them do their jobs better.  Approximately half the program consists of information-imparting sessions on topics like ethics, certiorari and writs, motions and fees, supreme court jurisdiction, statutory interpretation, and post-conviction issues.  The other sessions, which tend to be interactive in nature, give the new appellate judges practical opportunities to ponder, and to engage in energetic colloquies about, matters of pertinence to those who sit on the appellate bench—such as jurisdictional considerations, oral argument do’s and don’ts, working collegially (they reflect on crossing from the “solitary work of a trial court judge or lawyer” to being part of, and learning to work and to write as part of, a panel of judges), and strategies for becoming a better writer (Judge Gerber offers advice on “going from a Picasso to a Mona Lisa in your opinions”).

The 2018 New Appellate Judges Program unfolded during the first week of April, at the Florida Supreme Court.  When the program takes place in Tallahassee, it offers a special perk: participants get a chance to meet and interact with all the supreme court justices.  This year, their first opportunity came on the first day of the program: built into the schedule was “Lunch with the Florida Supreme Court.”  During this informal lunch hour, after introductions were made all around, Judge Gerber invited the justices to share some advice about being an appellate judge—and they responded candidly and helpfully, with words both of a professional and a personal nature.  Clearly, the opportunities for learning transpire on a great many levels at the New Appellate Judges Program.

(posted April 2018) / Return to top of page 

Families and Children in the Court, Substance and Mental Health Issues work to 'break down our silos'

By Judge Christine Greider and Judge Steve Leifman

As chairs of the Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Court and the Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in the Courts, we are pleased to report on a productive joint meeting that took place involving these two Supreme Court governance groups. Members of the Steering Committee and Task Force convened in Tampa on Feb. 22 to collaborate on important overarching issues.

The Steering Committee’s goal has historically been to establish a fully integrated, comprehensive approach to handling all cases involving children and families, while the Task Force has been charged to address the needs and challenges of individuals with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders who become involved in the justice system. Both of these groups address incredibly complex, deeply-rooted societal problems that require community-wide responses to have a chance at being solved.

Addressing these problems from silos is ineffective. As chairs of these two groups, we are very grateful for the opportunity to work with such committed judges, magistrates, and court leaders who have been spearheading systems change initiatives at community and statewide levels. But the courts alone cannot solve these vexing issues, which is why we are also fortunate that the Steering Committee and Task Force is comprised of stakeholders spanning a vast array of disciplines, including representatives from school districts, behavioral and mental health organizations, universities, the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Health, the Guardian ad Litem Program, state attorney offices, public defender offices, the private bar, and other community organizations.

It’s no surprise that crossover issues have emerged that these two groups have been concurrently tackling. These overlapping issues, along with the recognition that we must break down our silos to effectively solve these problems, served as the impetus for this joint meeting. Between the two groups, over 60 members attended the meeting; Justice Barbara Pariente and Justice Peggy Quince, the Supreme Court liaisons for the Steering Committee and Task Force respectively, attended as well. As a result of attending, members from both groups were able to discuss common initiatives and determine the necessary follow-up actions.

The first issue that members addressed was problem-solving court standards and certification. This issue of consistency and institutionalization of practice – that is maintained across judicial rotations and staff turnover — is of paramount importance in the handling of both family and criminal court cases. In a previous term, the Task Force developed Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standards, which were subsequently approved by the Supreme Court. A subcommittee of the Task Force is currently working on a proposed certification framework for the approved standards that will ensure that drug courts are operating with fidelity to the standards. Task Force members shared with Steering Committee members the process they went through in creating the standards as well as the ongoing work to develop a certification framework. This topic is directly related to a current initiative of the Steering Committee in the area of pursuing best practice standards for Early Childhood Courts, Florida’s newest problem-solving court docket. The Steering Committee has mirrored the efforts of the Task Force by developing Early Childhood Court best practice standards, with the goal of the standards being approved by the Supreme Court. During yesterday’s meeting, it was extremely helpful for Steering Committee members to hear from Task Force members on the lessons learned in regard to the development and implementation of their standards. The Steering Committee members who are currently embarking down this parallel path for Early Childhood Court standards left the meeting armed with the knowledge of pitfalls to avoid and promising practices to employ. As a result of the meeting, the Task Force fidelity workgroup will review the Steering Committee’s Early Childhood Court Standards and provide feedback.

The Baker Act is another overarching issue that is currently being addressed by both groups and was discussed at the meeting. The Task Force is charged with monitoring the implementation of recent legislative changes relating to the Baker Act and providing training and technical assistance on how the changes should apply to the judicial processing of Baker Act cases. Task Force members have examined the Baker Act process from many angles, including assessment, evaluation, and receipt of services. The Steering Committee has focused on juvenile Baker Acts within the context of its monitoring of school-justice partnerships that ensure children involved in family court cases stay in school and are less likely to be arrested, suspended, or expelled. The recent reduction in school-related arrests, expulsions, and arrests, coupled with an uptick in juvenile Baker Acts prompted the Steering Committee to look at this relationship more closely. Steering Committee and Task Force members discussed current Baker Act legislation, the recent Task Force on Involuntary Minors report, and commonalities between each group’s Baker Act initiatives.

For several years, the Steering Committee has been promoting trauma-responsive practices for family courts to adopt and use. A product of these effort is the Steering Committee’s Trauma and Child Development Family Court Tool Kit. In addition, OSCA has developed a trauma curriculum that judicial circuits can use to conduct local trauma-responsive court trainings. The discussion at yesterday’s meeting prompted the expansion of the tool kit and curriculum to be applied to all case types since trauma is certainly a primary factor in drug courts, mental health courts, veterans courts, and criminal courts as a whole. As a result of the meeting, pertinent information and practices will be imported from the trauma tool kit and be applied to other case types.

Lastly, both of these groups shared ideas on judicial branch strategies to address the opioid crisis. As with the other issues discussed at this meeting, the sentiment was expressed that we must not operate out of our individual silos to address this epidemic. And with state and federal funds and technical assistance coming in to the state from so many directions, it is imperative that we also ensure that new silos are not created to accompany the influx of new resources. Members also expressed how vital it is that we do not lose sight of addiction treatment for other drugs since Florida’s addiction problem is not limited to any particular substance. After a legislative update, an overview of state and federal funding resources, and case-type-specific responses, Steering Committee and Task Force members brainstormed court-related approaches to the crisis in the following four domains: judicial education, judicial leadership, judicial decision making, and the role of chief judges and trial court administrators. Both groups believe strongly that a comprehensive and coordinated court response to the opioid crisis is a prudent use of government funds and is in the best interest of children, families, and judicial economy.

With the 2016-2018 Steering Committee and Task Force terms coming to an end in June, this meeting offered an opportunity to reflect on all of the great work that has been going on across the state and also served as a catalyst to continue pushing this important work forward in new and challenging directions. We would both like to sincerely thank all of the members for their engagement, and we look forward to more collaborations in the future.

(posted February 2018) / Return to top of page