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History of Court Processes, Programs, and Initiatives

 Maintain a Professional, Ethical, and Skilled Judiciary and Workforce

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

Throughout the year, numerous groups within the court system offer high-quality education and training opportunities to the people who work in the judicial branch, making efficient and effective use of limited funding and staff resources.  For instance, the Standing Committee on Fairness and Diversity—with the help of the 26 diversity teams (one in each circuit court and DCA, and one for the supreme court and OSCA) and the judges who have become certified diversity trainers—conduct local and regional diversity awareness trainings.  Also on the local level, judges and court personnel often hold trainings for members of their workforce: numerous circuits have been developing continuing education programs for their court interpreters, for instance.

In addition, various OSCA units conduct or coordinate education programs for judges, court personnel, and justice system partners across the state.  The Office of Court Improvement, for example, continues to expand its repertoire of live and online trainings, publications, and videos for family court and problem-solving court professionals.  And the Florida Dispute Resolution Center, in addition to conducting local mediation education programs, facilitates a statewide conference each year for alternative dispute resolution professionals, giving attendees a chance to earn continuing education credits in mediator ethics, cultural diversity, domestic violence education, and other topics of relevance to their practice.  In addition, the Court Services Unit offers regular orientation workshops, and administers written and oral language exams, for foreign language and sign language interpreters who seek certification to interpret for the courts.  And the branch’s statewide ADA coordinator organizes educational conference calls, and also coordinates statewide training programs, for the circuit and appellate courts’ ADA coordinators on topics related to court access for people with disabilities.  Furthermore, the Administrative Services Division and the Personnel Services Unit periodically organize statewide instructional events on topics of importance to court staff who work in budget services, finance and accounting, general services, and human resources, and the General Services Unit coordinates trainings on emergency preparedness for the branch’s emergency coordinating officers. 

Other education programs and resources for judges and court personnel are 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.  The council, with the support of two OSCA units (Court Education and Publications), provides continuing education through live programs, both statewide and local, and through distance learning events, publications, and other self-learning resources.

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.  Each year, the council works with the leaders of the judicial conferences and judicial colleges to help judges meet their educational obligations.

Florida’s judicial branch has 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.  One of the functions of these conferences is to make sure their respective judges are able to satisfy the continuing education mandate.  Through representation on the council, each conference helps to develop educational policy, and with the assistance of OSCA’s Court Education Section, each conference also coordinates its own live education programs.  The Conference of County Court Judges of Florida and the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges offer annual education programs in the summer, and the Florida Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges holds its annual education program in the fall (at the same time and place, the appellate clerks and marshals hold their yearly educational events).

In addition to the three conferences, the branch has two judicial colleges: the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies and the Florida Judicial College.  The College of Advanced Judicial Studies is a comprehensive continuing judicial education program for those seeking to hone existing skills or to delve deeply into a subject matter area; also available are courses that encourage thoughtful reflection on the meaning of justice.  Florida’s appellate and trial judges, as well as its general magistrates and child support enforcement hearing officers, may apply to attend this annual program. 

Trial court judges who are new to the bench—and, since 2013, all new general magistrates and child support enforcement hearing officers as well—are required to participate in the Florida Judicial College program.  This intensive, 10-day program has two phases.  The first phase, a pre-bench program typically held in January, explores the art and science of judging through a series of orientation sessions, a mock trial experience, and a trial skills workshop; the second phase, two months later, focuses on more substantive and procedural matters.  The Florida Judicial College also includes a year-long mentoring program.

The Florida Court Education Council also sponsors an education program for judges new to the appellate bench.  New appellate judges who have never sat on the trial bench must also attend the first phase of the Florida Judicial College.

In order to be able to offer the hundreds of hours of continuing judicial education instruction needed each year, court education leaders rely substantially on the time and dedication of a roster of judges who generously agree to serve as faculty.  Judges who want to teach other judges are required to take a two-day faculty training course that, in a small-group setting (typically no more than 16 participants), introduces them to adult education principles and prepares them to create participatory learning activities.  These training programs, which are generally offered two times a year, ensure that the FCEC’s education initiatives remain needs-based, learner-driven, and beneficial and that the faculty are skilled at meaningfully responding to the needs of the students. 

Education for Court Personnel

Like judges, court personnel are expected to have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to serve and perform at the highest professional levels.  To meet this goal, the FCEC, through its Florida Court Personnel Committee and with the support of OSCA’s Court Education Section, continues to develop education and training opportunities for the employees who work in Florida’s court system.

Efforts to build a flourishing education program for court personnel began in 2006, when the FCEC hired a consultant to perform an education needs assessment of six categories of court personnel and to make recommendations about their training needs and the most effective methods for addressing them.  Not long after, the council established the Florida Court Personnel Committee to construct a plan for meeting these educational needs.  Since 2008, the FCEC has provided funding for numerous statewide educational initiatives for court personnel groups, and it has also granted funding assistance to support local education programs developed by court personnel.

Each year, the council has been funding a wide range of local training programs on topics like diversity and cultural awareness, leadership skills, communication and motivation, and case management skills.  The council also provides funding for several statewide programs each year.  Among them is the Florida Court Personnel Institute; inaugurated in 2013, this two-day program, tailored to the education needs of Florida’s court employees, brings approximately 100 court personnel together from across the state to participate in programs that focus on topics like motivation and team building, court communications, public perceptions of fairness, and faculty training.  Each year, participants have appreciated the level of instruction and its direct applicability to their work lives; evaluations confirm that attendees are energized by the experience and delight in the opportunity to meet others at similar professional levels throughout the court system.

Publications and Other Self-Learning Resources

To supplement the host of training and educational offerings for judges and court personnel, the branch has continued to expand its storehouse of self-learning resources and web-based materials.  To help the court system achieve this goal, the FCEC supports judicial and staff efforts to develop new court education publications, update existing ones, develop distance learning projects for court personnel, and expand the online Court Education Resource Library.

The FCEC’s Publications Committee, with the assistance of OSCA’s Publications Unit, works industriously to add to its catalog of online benchbooks and other publications for judges as well as webinars for court personnel.  The Publications Committee also continues to build the online Court Education Resource Library.  The resource library provides browsers with easy access to a panorama of educational materials: links to publications and other materials prepared by the Publications Committee and other OSCA units; materials from live court education programs and other educational events; and useful articles, curricula, handbooks, and reports from other state and national organizations.

The History of Judiciary Education in Florida

Florida is among the nation’s judiciary education pioneers.  Indeed, for more than four decades, branch education leaders in this state have been working studiously to ensure that judges have varied opportunities to enhance their knowledge, skills, and abilities, thereby equipping themselves to administer the justice system fairly, effectively, and in ways that promote the people’s trust and confidence. 

Continuing judicial education efforts began as early as 1972, when the supreme court established the Florida Institute for the Judiciary, a temporary education program designed to help new circuit and county judges carry out their judicial responsibilities.  Realizing that a more enduring program was necessary, in 1976, the court created the College for New Florida Judges (circuit and county)—an incipient version of what has become the Florida Judicial College, Phase II.  In 1978, anticipating the burgeoning of judiciary education for Florida’s judges and some court personnel groups, then Chief Justice Ben F. Overton established the Florida Court Education Council (FCEC), which was charged with coordinating and overseeing the creation and maintenance of a comprehensive education program and with making budgetary, programmatic, and policy recommendations to the court regarding continuing education; punctuating his commitment to this council and its important work, Chief Justice Overton—fondly called the “Father of Court Education”—became its first chair, serving in that capacity until 1995. 

In 1982, judiciary education truly began to blossom in Florida.  That year, the FCEC released a comprehensive plan that included goals, standards, and a long-range curriculum plan as well as standard operating procedures for administering education travel funds.  By 1983, most of the programs now regularly offered had been introduced: the annual education programs of the county judges, circuit judges, and appellate judges; the Florida Judicial College (the pre-bench program was not yet a part of this program); the traffic adjudication seminar; the chief judges education program; and the appellate law clerks education program (offered every other year); the following year, the first Florida Judicial College Faculty Training was offered.

At this point, judges had a great range of educational programming available to them—but judiciary education was not mandatory.  That changed in 1988, with the implementation of an opinion authored by Justice Overton requiring Florida’s judges to take 30 hours of continuing judicial education every three years (with new judges also having to fulfill some additional education requirements).  Meanwhile, judiciary education continued to expand: in 1991, for instance, the FCEC offered the first pre-bench program for new judges as well as the College of Advanced Judicial Studies (previously, “specialty courses” were tacked onto the beginnings and/or ends of other programs; later, the FCEC offered some stand-alone programs with several specialty courses together).  And 1991 also saw the establishment of the New Appellate Judges Program (originally, as part of the College of Advanced Judicial Studies), which became mandatory for all judges new to the appellate bench in 1996. 

Before long, the FCEC realized that the time was ripe for performing a full-spectrum self-assessment, and in 1998, it appointed a committee to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of all of Florida’s judicial education programs to determine whether the overall delivery system was adequate, comprehensive, and effective.  In its report to the supreme court, the committee made numerous recommendations about standardizing various education policies and procedures that are still in practice today.

Among its recommendations, the committee also offered numerous propositions regarding the recruitment, selection, and evaluation of the deans and associate deans of the two colleges: the Florida Judicial College and the College of Advanced Judicial Studies.  The deans and associate deans, who are appointed by the FCEC and can serve a maximum of two consecutive three-year terms, surely deserve special praise and appreciation, for they dedicate countless hours to ensuring that the colleges fulfill their missions and operate smoothly and effectively, and they take very seriously their manifold responsibilities, which include making decisions about issues ranging from the most minor (e.g., what color to select for the notebooks) to the most consequential (e.g., what sessions to offer each year; whether to cancel the college, or press on, when the 9/11 attacks occurred on day two of the program).     

And, still, the judiciary education program is thriving.  More recently, for instance, efforts to build a flourishing education program for court personnel took root: following a needs assessment performed in 2006, the FCEC established the Florida Court Personnel Committee and began to allot funding for programs for certain groups of court professionals.  Since then, court personnel have been able to take advantage of more than 100 education initiatives, most of which have been developed and offered on the local level.

Clearly, judiciary education in Florida has evolved appreciably over the years.  And it has had to evolve: for Florida has close to 1,000 judges—plus senior judges, general magistrates, and child support enforcement hearing officers—who seek to satisfy their continuing education requirements and to have access to trainings that furnish them with the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to serve and perform at the highest professional levels.  To make this a reality, the FCEC must offer hundreds of hours of continuing judiciary education each year.

This would undoubtedly be a formidable (and highly costly) challenge for the FCEC—if not for the dedication and generosity of a league of Florida judges who volunteer to serve as faculty for judiciary education courses.  And these judicial educators are of the highest caliber, for before they even set foot in front of a classroom at the Florida Judicial College or the College of Advanced Judicial Studies, the FCEC requires them to participate in a two-day faculty training course.  (Typically, the county judges’ and circuit judges’ conferences also utilize faculty who have taken an approved faculty training seminar.  And although judges who teach in other Florida judicial education activities are not required to take a faculty training course, they are strongly encouraged to.) 

First offered in 1984, these faculty trainings teach prospective judicial educators about planning a successful course founded on adult education principles: they learn how to do a needs assessment, develop learning objectives, team teach, reach different kinds of learners, make effective use of audio and visual support, and create useful learning activities.  Another enticing benefit of the training is that participants get to learn from some of the branch’s most experienced and accomplished judicial faculty, who unreservedly share practical and anecdotal tips about what works in the classroom (and what is likely to miss the mark).  Generally offered at least twice a year, the faculty trainings ensure that the FCEC’s education initiatives remain needs-based, learner-driven, and relevant and that its judicial educators are skilled at responding meaningfully to the needs of their students.  According to records kept by OSCA’s Court Education Section, over the years, more than 670 of Florida’s judges have undergone faculty training—and have taught thousands of courses for judges and court personnel.   

During the early years in which faculty trainings were offered in Florida, the FCEC brought in Dr. Gordon Zimmerman, Professor Emeritus in Communication (University of Nevada, Reno), whose faculty development programs have introduced more than 2,000 judges, lawyers, and managers across the nation to adult learning methods for teaching their colleagues.  Starting in the mid-1990s, however, Judge Scott Brownell, Twelfth Circuit, and Judge Kathleen Kroll, Fifteenth Circuit, enthusiastically welcomed that responsibility—and to this day, they are still committed to teaching judges how to be effective and compelling educators. 

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Zimmerman and Judges Brownell and Kroll, faculty-trained judges and former judges have been teaching with poise and assurance at judiciary education initiatives across the state for many years now.  Faculty trained judges frequently teach at local programs—for instance, they offer trainings on fairness and diversity and on topics related to dependency and domestic violence, and they teach at circuit-based continuing education programs for court interpreters and for mediators.  And they are ubiquitous at statewide judicial education programs: they teach at the county court and the circuit judges’ annual education programs, the Florida Judicial College, the New Appellate Judges Program, the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies, the DUI Adjudication Lab, and the Faculty Trainings and Faculty Enrichment Courses (and they often teach at the Florida Court Personnel Institute as well). 

Florida’s judicial faculty are also in demand on the national level.  For decades, they have taught for the National Judicial College (founded in 1963, the NJC was the first college to offer programs to judges nationwide).  In the five-year period between 2010 and 2015, for example, 16 different Florida judges and former judges served as faculty for the NJC, with some having taught for the college for more than 30 years! 

And on the international level as well, Florida’s judicial faculty are highly regarded.  As an illustration, for several years, small groups of German judges, eager for an opportunity to learn from Florida’s judicial educators, attended the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies at their own expense.  And in some cases, an entire Florida courthouse has served as a kind of “learning lab” for judges from afar: a delegation of South Korean judges and clerks visited the Second Circuit to learn about Florida’s jury system and witness the jury process at work, and several delegations of judges from Mongolia have visited the Seventeenth Circuit over the years to learn about Florida’s justice system and the practices of its judges. 

Thanks to the availability of increasingly sophisticated technological tools, the FCEC is also taking advantage of an expanding repertoire of methods with which to supplement its in-person trainings and education offerings.  In particular, it has been encouraging the development of online publications and other web-based self-learning resources.  This drive began in 1999, when the FCEC conducted a publications feasibility study, which resulted in a recommendation to create a judicial publications department in OSCA.  Working under the direction of the council’s Publications Committee, the OSCA Publications Unit, established in 2004, has developed and produced an abundance of benchguides, benchbooks, and manuals for judges and court personnel (initially available in hard copy, these publications are available exclusively online now).  The Publications Unit also built and continues to expand the online Court Education Resource Library, which is stocked with educational materials: links to publications and other texts prepared by the Publications Committee and various OSCA units; materials from live court education programs and other educational events; and useful articles, curricula, handbooks, and reports from other state and national organizations.  In addition, for court personnel, the FCEC has supported the development of distance learning courses related to publications in the resource library.  With the addition of web-based self-learning tools to its menu of education offerings, the FCEC continues to embrace new and innovative strategies for engaging and educating all kinds of adult learners in the judicial branch.