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2017-2018 Annual Report

Issue 5: Maintain a Professional, Ethical, and Skilled Judiciary and 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—and to promote the public’s trust and confidence in the justice system—judicial officers and court staff must have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to serve and perform at the highest levels of expertise.  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” and to maintain “high standards of professionalism and ethical behavior.”

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

Various groups within the judicial branch develop high-quality education and training opportunities for the people who work in Florida’s

Logo for Court Education

courts, making efficient and effective use of limited funding and staff resources.  Among these groups are the many circuits and DCAs that design education programs for select categories of their own, and often neighboring, court personnel (e.g., court interpreters, staff attorneys, managers).  In addition, members of the Standing Committee on Fairness and Diversity regularly offer diversity education and training events for judges and court personnel, both locally and regionally.  And several units of the Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA)—most notably, the Office of Court Improvement, the Florida Dispute Resolution Center, the Innovations and Outreach Unit, the Court Services Unit, and the statewide ADA coordinator—commonly conduct or facilitate trainings for judicial officers and court employees.  Readers can learn about this wealth of instructional offerings elsewhere in this annual report.

This section of the report focuses largely on the education programs and resources supported by the Florida Court Education Council (FCEC), 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 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 publications, distance learning events, and other self-learning resources.  (For more information about continuing judicial education efforts in Florida, which were formalized in 1972, please see the Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives.) 

Education for Judges and Quasi-Judicial Officers

Florida’s judges are required to earn a minimum of 30 approved credit hours of continuing judicial education every three years, and its new judges must satisfy additional requirements.  The FCEC regularly works closely with the leaders of the judicial conferences and the judicial colleges to ensure that judges have opportunities to meet their education obligations.

Every year, each of the three judicial conferences coordinates an annual education program designed, in large part, to help sitting judges remain in compliance with the Rules of Judicial Administration and to keep them up-to-date on changes in the law.  During the 2017 – 18 fiscal year, an annual education program was offered by the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida (approximately 300 county judges received training); the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges (approximately 500 circuit judges received training); and the Florida Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges (approximately 65 appellate judges received training). 

Education programs were also offered by the two judicial colleges during the fiscal year.  Approximately 50 judges, magistrates, and child support hearing officers attended the Florida Judicial College, a three-phase program that provides mandatory, bedrock training for those who are new to the bench (it also provides training for veteran judges who are switching to a new division): Phase I is a pre-bench program that includes a series of orientation sessions and a trial skills workshop; 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; and Phase III consists of a year-long mentoring program for new judges.  Moreover, approximately 350 judges and magistrates attended the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies, a comprehensive program for judges seeking to hone existing skills or to delve more deeply into advanced subject matters.  During the course of the year, the FCEC also sponsored a DUI Adjudication Lab (55 participants) and a faculty training specialty course, a two-day program that teaches judges how to be more effective teachers of other judges (37 participants).

One of the highlights of the New Appellate Judges Program is “Lunch with the Supreme Court,” at which the justices share “words of wisdom” with the new appellate judges.

One of the highlights of the New Appellate Judges Program is “Lunch with the Supreme Court,” at which the justices share “words of wisdom” with the new appellate judges.

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, through its Florida Court Personnel Foundation, takes a creative approach to promoting access to and support for training for employees who work in the courts system: a decentralized delivery system, the foundation model has been providing resources to local courts since 2008, enabling them to develop educational opportunities for their own employees based on their most pressing education and training needs. 

In the 2017 – 18 fiscal year, the foundation provided funding assistance for three statewide programs: a Court Security Coordinator Training, an Emergency Coordinating Officer Training, and a Florida Trial Court Staff Attorneys Conference.  Funding was also provided for 13 local training programs on topics such as How to Become a Great Communicator; Creating a Positive and Professional Work Environment; Customer Service Training; Managing Stress; and Opinion Writing and Advanced Legal Editing; further, several circuits offered trainings to help supervisors become better leaders.  Also in the 2017 – 18 fiscal year, the FCEC supported the Trial Court Administrators Education Program (52 participants) and the Appellate Clerks and Marshals Education Program (18 participants).

After the new appellate judges watch a supreme court oral argument together, Fourth DCA Chief Judge Jonathan Gerber, the appellate dean of the New Appellate Judges Program, leads a session on Oral Arguments – Purposes and Professionalism.

After the new appellate judges watch a supreme court oral argument together, Fourth DCA Chief Judge Jonathan Gerber, the appellate dean of the New Appellate Judges Program, leads a session on Oral Arguments – Purposes and Professionalism.

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 diligently to update its repository of online publications during the fiscal year.  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; Acting as a Bar Referee Course Outline; An Aid to Understanding Canon 7; Contempt Benchguide; Duty Judge Manual; Florida Benchguide on Court Interpreting; Florida Small Claims Rules Annotated; Florida Traffic-Related Appellate Opinion Summaries (updated quarterly); Handling Florida Cases Involving Self-Represented Litigants: A Manual for Florida Courts; Interpersonal Violence Case Law Summaries – Civil and Criminal (updated quarterly); Judicial Administration Benchguide; Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions Topical Index (updated quarterly); Judicial Ethics Benchguide; and Voir Dire Outline.  A new publication—The Consumer Law Bench Book—was produced, and two new titles are forthcoming: Automatic Stay Handbook for State Court Judges and Practitioners and the Criminal Benchguide for County Judges

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In addition, the Office of the State Courts Administrator is actively working to expand its menu of e-learning opportunities. Most recently, OSCA’s Office of Court Improvement released a three-part e-learning series on Medication-Assisted Treatment as well as an e-learning module on GRACE Court, the Eleventh Circuit’s Human Trafficking Court (the acronym stands for “Growth through Renewal, Acceptance, Change, and Empowerment”).  And the Innovations and Outreach Unit, in coordination with other OSCA units, developed three new e-learning modules: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (with the Office of the General Counsel and Human Resources), Records Access and Retention in an Electronic World (with the Office of the General Counsel), and IT Fundamentals: Password and Email Security (with the Office of Information Technology Services).  In focusing on e-learning, OSCA aims to respond to employees’ eagerness for 24/7 on-demand delivery, short-live sessions, online and blended courses, and a space for learner communication and collaboration. 

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