2019 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. 

The Florida Supreme Court and the Office of the State Courts Administrator will be closed July 4 and July 5.

Recent News & Updates

7th Circuit TCA Mark Weinberg Receives Prestigious National Award

By OSCA staff

7th Circuit TCA Mark Weinberg is pictured with Paul Delosh, past president of NACM

7th Circuit TCA Mark Weinberg is pictured with Paul Delosh, past president of NACM

Mr. Mark Weinberg, who has been the Trial Court Administrator for the Seventh Judicial Circuit since 1993, is the 2019 recipient of the Award of Merit from the National Association for Court Management.  Presented each year at the NACM Annual Conference, this award “recognizes distinguished service and outstanding contributions to the profession of court administration.”  Recipients are chosen for demonstrated leadership, improvements in the administration of justice and the delivery of public service, and support for the independence of the judiciary.  (This link goes to a brief interview with Mr. Weinberg.)

(posted July 2019) / Return to top of page

July is Florida Courts Opioid Awareness Month

By OSCA staff

Florida and the nation are experiencing a well-documented opioid crisis.  There are now more annual deaths from accidental opioid overdose than from traffic crashes. 

Opioid Awareness Month

In response to this crisis, Chief Justice Charles T. Canady has signed a proclamation designating July 2019 within the State Courts System as Opioid Awareness MonthPDF Download, a time for awareness and treatment for opioid-use disorder.

“I call upon judicial officers and court staff members to increase their efforts to understand the effect of opioid use disorder throughout the judicial system and in the cases before them,” Chief Justice Canady’s proclamation states.

Widespread, debilitating, and sometimes fatal opioid-use disorder among Floridians requires judges and court staff members, especially those working in the state’s problem-solving treatment courts as well as family courts, to understand addiction and its effect on the brain, along with treatment standards.  The statewide judicial branch opioid initiative offers a six-pronged approach, including training and technical assistance for Florida’s judges and courts staff.  

In addition, 72 judges and court staff from all 20 circuits have been selected to be “circuit champions” for this initiative and are currently studying the issues related to opioid use disorder as they intersect with the court. 

Education, awareness, accountability, and evidence-based medication-assisted treatment programs can make a difference in Florida.  The state’s courts are sensitive to the pain and harm caused by increasing opioid use disorder and committed to improving response.  Judges and staff throughout the state will mark July’s Opioid Awareness Month with information about effective programs, self-auditing of evidence-based responses, and promoting conferences and training scheduled for the coming months. In addition to the statewide judicial branch response, various local court awareness events have also been planned.

Take this link for more information about the Opioid Initiative in Florida courts.

(posted June 2019) / Return to top of page

Florida Courts Public Information Officers Present at Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies

By Paul Flemming, Public Information Officer

Last month, members of the Florida Courts Public Information Officers, a nonprofit group representing PIOs from all state courts jurisdictions, presented to about three dozen state judges during a session at the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies. The course, The Judiciary & The Media, was one among 24 conducted by volunteer faculty presenters, providing 156 hours of judicial education.

Image of public information officers presenting at the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies

Public Information Officers Presenting at the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies

The Advance Judicial Studies is supported by the Florida Court Education Council and staff of the Office of the State Courts Administrator.

“Our Faculty Presenters, Track Leaders, and other volunteer judges have donated their time and effort to develop and present judicial education programs that meet the diverse needs of our almost 1,000 county, circuit, and appellate judges from around the state,” wrote Judge Donna Padar Berlin, a circuit judge in Sarasota’s 12th Judicial Circuit and incoming dean of the College of Advanced Judicial Studies.

The Judiciary & The Media course was presented by Stephen Thompson, public information officer for the Sixth Judicial Circuit; Karen Levey, chief deputy court administrator in the Ninth Judicial Circuit; Michelle Kennedy, public information officer in the 18th Judicial Circuit; Craig Waters, director of the Florida Supreme Court Public Information Office; Tricia Knox, deputy director of the Florida Supreme Court Public Information Office; and Paul Flemming, public information officer for the Office of the State Courts Administrator. 

Among the sessions presented during the course were Making the News Good: How to Increase Public Understanding Through Good Works and Community Outreach and Keeping Abreast of Technological Changes in the Media World from Social Media to Live Streaming.

Public information officers in Florida’s state courts are the outgrowth of then-Chief Justice Charles T. Wells directive to appoint PIOs after a 2002 report on emergency preparedness prompted by the terror attacks of 2001.

Material and discussions centered on the Florida election recount of 2000, developments in social media and the law, strategies for high-profile cases, and best practices for communications and outreach from around the state.

(posted June 2019) / Return to top of page

Guardianship Update: WINGS Workgroups Share Their Accomplishments

By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

With a grant and technical assistance from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging and the National Center for State Courts, the Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) has been guiding a Florida Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS) initiative, a broad-based, synergistic enterprise focused on improving practices in adult guardianship.  Chaired by Judge Frederick J. Lauten, Ninth Judicial Circuit, WINGS has been working to kindle collaborative approaches to addressing guardianship issues; in facilitating the coordination of key representatives from the various stakeholder groups, the initiative aims to ensure that efforts are not duplicated and that collective impact is preserved.  Through their focus on identifying, assessing, and improving guardianship practices and other decision-making alternatives, the approximately 50 WINGS stakeholders from across Florida aim to enhance the quality of care and the lives of vulnerable adults.

Image of Judge Lauten

Chief Judge Frederick Lauten, Ninth Circuit, chairs Florida’s WINGS initiative; here, he welcomes stakeholders to the sixth WINGS summit, which took place in Tallahassee in May.

Since the WINGS launch in July 2017, members have participated in five full-day, in-person summits and one half-day conference call.  Before their first year was through, they identified four areas on which they believe the initiative must focus (Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation; Alternatives to Guardianship; Process Improvement and Standardization; and Education and Awareness); developed a strategic plan for guardianship reform in Florida; and distinguished and prioritized eight concrete goals.  At their fourth summit, in May 2018, they divided into three workgroups to direct their efforts toward the first three goals: develop a recruitment plan to increase the number of physicians serving on examining committees; develop a decision-making options toolkit for the public; and create a tool to help law enforcement and first responders recognize and respond to elder abuse and similar issues affecting vulnerable populations.

Image of Judge Morley

Judge Susan Morley, Fifth Circuit, who chaired the committee that addressed low physician participation in examining committees, gives her presentation on the group’s findings to WINGS members.

The most recent summit, this past May in Tallahassee, began with workgroup chairs giving presentations on their progress thus far.  The first workgroup surveyed physicians from circuits around the state to determine the reasons for low physician participation in examining committees and, based on what they learned, developed a comprehensive plan that includes both recommendations and recruitment strategies for boosting physician engagement.  The second workgroup created an Exploring My Decision-Making Options brochure for the public: this concise, user-friendly, and visually appealing guide addresses topics such as money management options, power of attorney, representative payee, trusts, health care surrogacy, mental health advance directives, living wills, do not resuscitate orders, and a description of the difference between guardian advocacy, guardianship, and limited guardianship.  In addition, this workgroup built a straightforward checklist designed to help people explore their decision-making abilities and determine whether they need any supports.  When complete, these tools will be posted on the WINGS website.  And the third workgroup prepared a draft of a Law Enforcement and First Responder Protocol for Investigating Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of Vulnerable Adults, which offers a three-step process for recognizing and responding to elder abuse as well as lists of resources for law enforcement and first responders and for victims and their families.   

Following these workgroup presentations, OSCA employees Nathan Moon and Melinda Coulter, who staff WINGS, gave a preview of the e-learning modules on guardianship currently under development.  Partnering with Stetson University’s Center for Excellence in Elder Law, the National Judicial College (national experts in judicial training), and judges and attorneys from across the state, they are producing four modules, each with comprehension checks and active learning exercises.  Roles and Responsibilities of Judges and Attorneys is nearly ready to post; soon to follow will be modules on Ethical Considerations in Guardianship Cases; Decisionmaking Alternatives; and Eldercaring Coordination.  As they are completed, these e-learning modules will be posted on the WINGS website

Image of presenters at WINGS meeting

Mr. Nathan Moon and Ms Melinda Coulter, OSCA staff to WINGS, provide an overview of the content of the first of four e-learning modules they are developing on guardianship.

Although their accomplishments are impressive, WINGS members made it clear that they are not about to rest on their laurels.  In fact, they have already begun gearing up to address the next set of priority areas.  Workgroups have just been established to accomplish the following: develop and pilot a volunteer court visitor program; establish a process for courts to notify the Social Security Administration when a guardian of the property who is also a representative payee is removed; and design an evaluation guide for courts to use when approving family guardianship training courses in an effort to improve course consistency, quality, and content.

The May 10 summit was the last WINGS meeting underwritten by the American Bar Association grant.  So, as a prelude to discussing sustainability plans for WINGS, the time was ripe for members to share whether, and how, WINGS—which is the first endeavor to bring all stakeholder groups together to collaboratively advance guardianship reform in Florida—has been helpful to the guardianship-related work that each of them performs.  On the whole, members were very enthusiastic about their WINGS experience; they are excited about the tools they have developed collectively and about the opportunities that WINGS has given them to learn about resources created by other stakeholder groups.  And they also appreciate having regular networking and collaboration opportunities and remarked on the ways in which their awareness has increased from working closely with stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.  The kind of fruitful relationship-building that WINGS has sparked can only support efforts to map a global strategy for improved processes and increased effectiveness—and, ultimately, to enhance the lives of people who have, or may need, guardians.

(posted June 2019) / Return to top of page

Return to Full Court Press Spring 2019

Commission Updated on Efforts to Assure Access Following Hurricanes

By Paul Flemming, Public Information Officer

Staff members from the Panhandle’s 14th Judicial Circuit — six counties from Panama City’s Bay County to the state line and Marianna’s Jackson County — provided a compelling presentation on efforts to get state courts up and running following Hurricane Michael.

Image of Judge Smiley

Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Elijah Smiley describes damage to the roof of the Bay County Courthouse in Panama City during a December tour. The roof of the third floor was damaged, allowing water intrusion and making judge’s offices unusable.

The presentation was part of a series of reports about courts staff response to Hurricanes Irma and Michael, including information from The Florida Bar as well as Legal Services, providing representation to low-income people in civil legal matters.

Trial Court Administrator Robyn Gable and Court Technology Officer Gary Hagan provided members of the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice first-hand information about what Justice Jorge Labarga called “heroic efforts” to get courts open and provide access to justice.

Gable described the immediate and ongoing challenges caused by the Category 5 storm, to the community as well as those who work for the courts.

“Nothing prepares you for the toll it takes on your staff,” Gable said. “Much of our staff continues to not live in their homes.”

Gable said there were two priorities after Hurricane Michael. Of primary importance was locating and assuring the safety of all judges and staff. This was made nearly impossible by the damage caused to infrastructure.

“It’s hard to describe the lack of communication,” Gable said. Power, cell service, fiber optic networks, and transportation were all compromised.

Photo of technology staff

Technology staff from around the state traveled to the Panhandle’s 14th Judicial Circuit in the days after Michael damaged the state courts computer network in October to help repair and move equipment.

Second, judges and staff in the 14th Circuit focused on restoring essential functions of the courts. On October 10, when Michael came ashore, courts in 27 counties and six judicial circuits were closed in anticipation of dangerous conditions. The majority were open again within days. The severity of damage in the 14th Circuit meant enormous challenges and difficulty getting courthouses or temporary solutions open.

Court Technology Officer Gary Hagan recounted how judges and staff from all around the state aided the effort to get the severely damaged computer networks moved, repaired, and functioning.

Bay and Jackson counties, along with all other jurisdictions, were open by October 29. First appearances and emergency hearings began within days as judges traveled to jails and temporary facilities, designated judges from adjacent circuits stepped in, and staff worked to restore network and communication services. Gable said 48 judges and staff were displaced from their offices in Bay County and 17 judges and staff were put out of their workplaces in Jackson County. Temporary offices, shared space, and connectivity challenges are still the norm in Panama City and Marianna.

Jury trials were suspended in Bay County until January, in part because of the difficulty reaching prospective jurors. Judges are conducting double trial weeks now to get schedules back on track.

Image of Judge Smiley

Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Elijah Smiley shows damage to the administrative building in Panama City in December. The building housed computer network infrastructure for the courts. Damage from Hurricane Michael made the building unusable and network hardware has to be repaired and moved. The 14th Judicial Circuit includes Bay and Jackson counties that had serious damage from Michael.

Access to justice was also aided by the Young Lawyers Division of The Florida Bar. Frank Digon-Greer, assistant director of the programs division at The Florida Bar, told Commission members about the results of a partnership to provide a hotline for legal services referrals.

Following Hurricane Irma, there were 424 volunteers who provided 2,036 referrals. In the aftermath of Michael, there were 185 volunteers who provided 718 referrals.

Legal Services of Greater Miami Executive Director Monica Vigues-Pitan and Legal Services of North Florida Executive Director Leslie Powell-Boudreaux provided information about the short- and long-term help offered by their organizations.

That continues to be seen in Monroe County following Hurricane Irma. The 2017 storm destroyed or severely damaged more than 4,000 homes. Legal Aid helped with more than 1,000 FEMA applications, held legal clinics, and represented clients in FEMA appeals and in other cases, Vigues-Pitan said.

In the path of Michael, there have been more than 33,000 FEMA claims denied in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.

“Landlord-tenant issues after Hurricane Michael have extended far longer than what I’ve seen,” Powell-Boudreux said. “Legal issues are going to continue for multiple years following the storm.”

(posted June 2019) / Return to top of page

Law Day at the Florida Supreme Court

By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

Marked annually across the country on May 1, Law Day is set aside to celebrate the rule of law—a day to ponder the role of law in the foundation of the United States and to recognize its importance in preserving a just and civilized society.  On Law Day, Americans are encouraged to contemplate the ways in which law and the legal process protect our liberties and contribute to the freedoms we cherish.

Family sitting on the bench in the courtroom

The elder daughter in this Tallahassee family will be studying civics when she begins seventh grade next year, and she was especially interested in learning about Florida’s courts.

Law Day was established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958; in 1961, Congress issued a joint resolution designating May 1 as the official date for recognizing this event.  Each year, the American Bar Association designates a Law Day theme to foreground an issue related to the law or legal system.  This year’s theme—Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society—“focuses on these cornerstones of representative government and calls on us to understand and protect these rights to ensure, as the U.S. Constitution proposes, ‘the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.’”

Young visitors wearing robes and sitting on the bench in the courtroom

The court’s younger visitors always relish the chance to try on justice robes and play the part of justices.

This year, the Florida Supreme Court observed Law Day with an open house on Saturday, May 4, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.  During this rare opportunity to tour the court on a weekend, court staff were on hand to answer questions about Florida’s judicial branch and provide information about the Florida Supreme Court and the treasures in its rare book room. 

Adult visitors wearing robes and sitting on the bench in the courtroom

Adult visitors are often no less enthusiastic than the children when it comes to donning justice robes.

And on their own, guests were invited to amble around the public areas of the building, checking out the library, the rare book room, the lawyer’s lounge, and the portraits of the current and former justices adorning the courtroom and the hallway walls.  Especially enticing to the younger visitors was the opportunity to participate in mock oral arguments and to enrobe themselves and have their photos taken in the justices’ chairs.  Incidentally, the children weren’t the only ones who eagerly embraced the chance to don a justice robe!

Altogether, more than 100 people—including at least 40 children—participated.  The open house even drew international visitors—families from Brazil and South Korea were among the guests.  The supreme court’s Law Day commemoration was in part inspired by the success of the court’s September 2018 Constitution Day open house, also held on a weekend.  Given their popularity, the Public Information Office, which coordinated these programs, is hoping that both can become annual happenings at the supreme court.

(posted May 2019) / Return to top of page

Return to Full Court Press Spring 2019

Take Our Children to Work Day at the Florida Supreme Court

By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

The average age of the people enlivening the halls of the Florida Supreme Court Building plummeted noticeably on April 25, when nearly 40 children of supreme court and Office of the State Courts Administrator employees were on-site for this year’s education- and fun-packed Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. 

Employee and son with stand-in of the Supreme Court Seal

With her son Aditya Tallapragada behind her, Ms Syamala Velichety, with OSCA’s Information Technology Office, poses as Lady Justice in the stand-in of the Supreme Court Seal.

Founded in 1993 as Take Our Daughters to Work Day—and expanded to include sons in 2003—this unofficial national holiday was conceived as an innovative way to expand children’s future opportunities, empowering them to imagine their tomorrows without gender limitations.  Now celebrated around the world, Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is recognized on the fourth Thursday of April each year. 

The Florida Supreme Court began marking this special occasion soon after it was introduced.  The timing was propitious.  The court had created a Gender Bias Study Commission and a Racial and Ethnic Bias Study Commission in the 1980s—and a Commission on Fairness in the 1990s—and the work of these bodies induced an awareness of the presence of various kinds of bias in our culture generally, and in the justice system in particular, noted Ms Debbie Howells, a court operations consultant in the state courts administrator’s office who has been helping to facilitate these programs since the beginning.  Initially with a “Take Our Daughters to Work” focus, they were designed to encourage girls to consider entering the legal profession.  But before long, sons were invited as well, and that tradition has continued unbroken ever since.   

Group of young visitors in the rare book room

The young visitors are intrigued by some of the interesting facts about the treasures in the court’s rare book room that Supreme Court Archivist Erik Robinson shares.

Coordinated by the supreme court’s Public Information Office, the April event began with a tour of the supreme court building—the library, the rare book room, the lawyer’s lounge, the courtroom, and the justices’ conference room.  Next was a security demonstration staged by the supreme court marshals—always an exciting highlight, especially the taser demo!  And the liveliness culminated in the courtroom, where the children performed their own mock oral argument. 

Group of young visitors raising their hands in the courtroom

In the Supreme Court Courtroom, the children enthusiastically begin preparations for a mock oral argument.

This year’s happening beguiled the young visitors with an additional amusement: the opportunity to pose for a photo as Lady (or Gentleman) Justice within the sphere of a massive, wooden, eight-foot tall “stand-in” of the Florida Supreme Court Seal.  Indeed, this prop has its own interesting history: according to Mr. Craig Waters, director of the court’s Public Information Office, it was used as part of a theatrical production performed at a dinner celebrating the Supreme Court Sesquicentennial on May 7, 1997, and had been lying about, forgotten, in the archives all these years.  As some of the photos accompanying this story illustrate, the chance to participate in this solemn tableau was clearly a temptation for people of all ages.

Justice and son in the stand-in of the Supreme Court Seal

Justice Ricky Polston and his son Jonathan pose for a photo in the stand-in of the Supreme Court Seal.

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day at the Florida Supreme Court is but one example of the judicial branch’s commitment to creating an abundance of opportunities for all “students,” regardless of age, to learn about the functions, processes, and accomplishments of their courts.  And, by all accounts, this year’s event was a huge success.  A thank you email from Ms Mary Craft, an accountant with the Office of the State Courts Administrator, wonderfully captures the appreciation the participants felt: “I wanted to let you guys know how much my granddaughter Machaela Melvin enjoyed everything during the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.  She has not stopped talking about it to her parents and siblings.  She even held a mock trial at home for them.  Thank you for allowing her to have such a rewarding experience.”  The gratitude and enthusiasm conveyed by the young participants and their sponsors evince the fruitfulness of these kinds of educational endeavors.

(posted May 2019) / Return to top of page

Return to Full Court Press Spring 2019

The New Appellate Judges Program: Offering Strategies for "How I Can Do My Job Better" 

By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

Florida is among the nation’s judicial education pioneers.  For more than four decades, branch education leaders have been working to ensure that judges have sufficient opportunities to enhance their knowledge, skills, and abilities and are thereby equipped to effectively perform the challenging work of the courts and to meet the needs of the people they serve. 

Judge Gerber speaking at the New Appellate Judges Program

In his session on Opinion Writing – Making Great Writers Better, associate dean of the New Appellate Judges Program, Chief Judge Jonathan Gerber, Fourth DCA, offers strategies for organizing appellate opinions and making them more accessible and easier to follow.

Efforts to systematize continuing judicial education began in 1972, when the supreme court established an interim education program to help new circuit and county judges carry out their judicial responsibilities.  Realizing that a permanent program was needed, in 1976, the court created the College for New Florida Judges (an embryonic version of the Florida Judicial College).  Then in 1978, anticipating the flourishing of judicial education for all Florida judges and for some court personnel groups, then Chief Justice Ben F. Overton established the Florida Court Education Council to coordinate and oversee the creation and maintenance of a comprehensive education program and to make budget, program, and policy recommendations to the court regarding continuing education.  Soon thereafter, judicial education truly began to thrive, and starting in 1988, with the implementation of an opinion authored by Justice Overton, it became mandatory for judges: since then, judges are required to take 30 hours of continuing judicial education every three years.  New judges, in addition to being assigned a mentor judge from their respective tier, are required to satisfy additional education requirements. 

Participation in the New Appellate Judges Program is required of all judges newly appointed to the appellate bench.  Established in 1991, this program assists the recent appointees with the transition to their new responsibilities—a challenging passage for those who previously served as trial court judges, and all the more exacting for those appointed directly from the practice of law.  As the dean of the program and its lead faculty member, Chief Judge Jonathan Gerber, Fourth DCA, says, for those who seek to learn “how I can do my job better, this program will help,” for it “gives you things to think about” and opportunities to share “ideas with the different faculty members and your colleagues here.”

New Appellate Judges Program participates having lunch with justices

One of the benefits of holding the New Appellate Judges Program in Tallahassee is that participants have a chance to meet and interact informally with the supreme court justices. On day one of the program, while everyone meets together over lunch, the justices share some words of wisdom about being an appellate judge.

Consisting of a balance of lecture-style sessions and participatory learning experiences, the curriculum for the New Appellate Judges Program offers attendees many opportunities to absorb, analyze, discuss, and put to the test practices designed to help them do their jobs better.  A portion of the program consists of information-imparting sessions on topics like ethics, certiorari and writs, motions and fees, statutory interpretation, and post-conviction issues.  The other sessions, which tend to be more interactive in nature, give participants practical opportunities to ponder, and to engage in energetic discussions about, matters of pertinence to those who sit on the appellate bench—such as jurisdictional considerations, oral argument do’s and don’ts, opinion writing skills, and working collegially (participants 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).

The 2019 New Appellate Judges Program took place during the first week of April at the Florida Supreme Court.  When the program takes place in Tallahassee—which it has regularly done since 2015—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 openly and helpfully.

The justices began by emphasizing the great responsibility the attendees shoulder in being district court judges.  The work of a DCA judge is “phenomenally important,” in part, because their court is the court of last resort for most litigants: it’s “the only appeal most people can get.”  For this reason, the justices urged the new judges to “explain your opinions; everyone, especially the litigants, should be able to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.  And it’s also important to the credibility of the court,” they stressed.  In addition to making a case for accessible and well-explained opinions, the justices counseled the new judges to “think carefully about every word” they use in their opinions and to limit themselves to “deciding only the issues brought by the litigants, saying nothing more than what needs to be said.”  The justices also noted that “An opinion can take on a life of its own.  It is not just for the litigant” whose case is before the court.  Indeed, “Opinions have all sorts of broader implications, maybe not intended.”  That’s why it’s critical that the new judges “Never make opinions personal; you’re an error-correcting court; don’t be, or make your opinion, personal,” the justices coached.  They also advised the new judges to “Be timely with your opinions.  You are part of a team.  Don’t make the whole court wait on you.” 

Speakers presenting at New Appellate Judges Program

Mr. John Tomasino, clerk of the Florida Supreme Court, and Ms Kristina Samuels, clerk of the First District Court of Appeal, conduct a session on Supreme Court Jurisdiction.

Several justices brought up the issue of “tone,” as well.  In addition to exhorting the new judges to pay attention to the tone of their opinions, they also stressed that tone is critical in “how you treat one another if you disagree, how you treat the trial courts below, how you treat the lawyers arguing before you.”  “Be nice, play nice,” as one justice succinctly put it.   

While noting the great responsibility of being an appellate judge, the justices also pointed out that the job is great fun: “The work is always interesting, engaging, and intellectually challenging,” they pointed out; “You get to think creatively, deeply, about things no one has decided before.  You are a shepherd of the law.” 

Above all, being an appellate judge is also a great honor.  As Chief Justice Canady reminded everyone, “It’s a privilege for all judges to serve the people of Florida.  Every day you go to work, go with a sense of gratitude.” 

(posted April 2019) / Return to top of page

Return to Full Court Press Spring 2019

Teaching Teachers: Educators' Perspectives on Learning at the Supreme Court of Florida

By Aimee Clesi and Linnea Dulikravich, interns with the supreme court's Public Information Office

The Florida Supreme Court Teacher Institute is an annual education program that invites approximately 25 middle and high school teachers from across the state to learn about the supreme court and our judicial system.  The Court Teacher Institute is highly selective in choosing from among its applicants, and those invited to participate in the program are exposed to the teachings of all seven justices of the supreme court, as well as other legal professionals, who prepare them to educate their students about justice and the rule of law when they return home.  Although the rigorous educational program of the Court Teacher Institute lasted for only five days, from Sunday, February 17, to Thursday, February 21, 2019, it has sparked a lasting desire in its participants to inform and educate others, especially students, about the operations and importance of the court system and the constitutional rights we are fortunate to have.

Image of teachers on bench during mock oral argument

Listening to the mock oral arguments are (l–r) Ms Jenny Gulli, of Osceola Creek Middle School; Dr. Marjorie Chiarolanzio, of Oxbridge Academy; Mr. Charles Leadingham, of Bell Creek Academy; Ms Lorun Austin, of Cocoa Junior/Senior High School; and Mr. Michael Rogers, of Lake Asbury Junior High School.

Teachers met the seven justices during their study of case law and discussions about the Florida Constitution, journeyed to Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit and First District Court of Appeal to learn about the “trail of justice,” and weighed in on a legal case, handpicked by Justice Alan Lawson, that is currently before the supreme court.  Through their study of this case, teachers garnered first-hand experience of the justice system and became fully enveloped in their roles as lawyers and justices for a mock oral argument on this case. 

After speaking with the teachers, we could see how much the Court Teacher Institute meant to them.  Dr.  Marjorie Chiarolanzio, a social science instructor at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, supervises the Model United Nations team at her school and enjoys participating in continuing education opportunities.  She praised the diversity and camaraderie of the institute: “In this experience, I was among a group of my peers!  Geographically diverse, but also philosophically diverse.  We teach different types of students and come from different backgrounds, perspectives, and opinions.”  Yet everyone worked together so well, she said.  She also appreciated the interactions with the justices: “The accolades we received from the justices—we never get that kind of feedback, ever! The gratification we usually get is from students, rarely from colleagues and [our] superiors.”

The behind-the-scenes experience was the most appealing part of the program to attorney-turned-teacher Jeffrey Van Treese, II, an instructor for the Law Academy at Palm Beach Lakes Community High School.  He said the institute provided him with a “more intimate understanding of the supreme court and how justices hear and decide cases,” knowledge that the justices hope will be passed on to students in lesson plans and engaging learning activities in schools.

Image of Mr. Rogers on bench during mock oral argument

Playing the role of a justice during the mock oral argument, Court Teacher Institute fellow Mr. Michael Rogers, who teaches at Lake Asbury Junior High School in Cove Springs, thinks deeply about the case before him and his fellow “justices.”

And Mr. Michael Rogers, an instructor from Lake Asbury Junior High School in Green Cove Springs, voiced that “It was really liberating to witness the checks and balances that are built into each layer of our judicial process.” In experiencing a case from start to finish, he said he gained a unique perspective on how the judicial branch operates.  He found Justice Ricky Polston’s talk especially resonant: “You’re going to be very glad you watched and saw how our judicial system works,” explained Justice Polston on the second day of the institute, reminding the teachers of “how important it is for everyone to get a fair shot with a jury.”  Mr. Rogers teaches at a school where the majority of students are the first in their families to go to college—and some have an incarcerated family member; he emphasizes the importance of becoming educated to his classes and considers the civics program fundamental to their education.  He said he wants his students to do the right thing and to learn from the mistakes of others so that they can become better, more civic-minded individuals.  He knows the institute will help him help his students.  Education, particularly knowledge pertaining to the law, will help them stay out of trouble, he said, adding, “I feel guilty leaving them [his students] for a week, but knowing what I will bring back to them [from the institute] makes it all worthwhile.”

Image of two teachers at Governor's Club

Mr. Frank Stockman, the institute’s mentor-teacher, and Ms Jenny Gulli, who teaches at Osceola Creek Middle School, relish the rigors of the Court Teacher Institute program, but they also enjoy the opportunities to talk informally with the justices and to share ideas with other teachers from across the state.

The Court Teacher Institute was created over two decades ago with the mission to demystify the judicial system for teachers from a diversity of Florida’s schools.  Ms. Annette Boyd Pitts, executive director of Civic MindEd, Inc./Center for Law Education (formerly the Florida Law Related Education Association), helps to coordinate the institute and strongly believes in the program’s purpose and the value it gives our state’s educators and, in turn, their students.  In Ms. Pitts’ experience, “When public knowledge about the courts increases, so too does trust and confidence in the judicial branch,” which explains why she is so passionate about the institute.  Designed to help teachers create replicable lesson plans about the roles and functions of the judicial branch, the institute is purposeful every day of the program.  The quality of the instruction and of the lessons shared at the institute will support the teachers’ efforts to better educate their students about courts in the state of Florida.  Thanks to the contributions of the justices and many local judges and program volunteers, the Court Teacher Institute has had a significant impact on Florida’s teachers that is sure to travel beyond the marble interior of the supreme court.

(posted March 2019) / Return to top of page

Return to Full Court Press Spring 2019

The Florida Supreme Court Teacher Institute

By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

Sponsored by the supreme court, underwritten by The Florida Bar Foundation, and coordinated by the Florida Law Related Education Association, the Florida Supreme Court Teacher Institute (formerly known as the Justice Teaching Institute) annually offers up to 25 of Florida’s middle and high school teachers the chance to study closely, and to see in action, the operations of the third branch.  Established in 1997, the institute was conceptualized by former Chief Justice Gerald Kogan (on the supreme court from 1987 – 1998) as a component of the court’s Sesquicentennial Celebration, and it has been thriving ever since.  The interactive five-day program is challenging and intense—to participate, teachers undergo a competitive selection process.  Nonetheless, each year, the teachers enthusiastically agree that the education they received is peerless.

Justice Lawson speaking to teachers

Justice Lawson introduces the teachers to the Fourth Amendment case that will be the basis for their mock oral argument.

Under the tutelage of the supreme court justices, the Court Teacher Institute fellows delve deeply into a wide range of court-related topics.  For this year’s institute, held from Feb 17 – 21, Chief Justice Canady talked about the Structure, Function, and Funding of the State Courts System; Justice Polston offered a Comparative Overview of the State and Federal Courts; Justice Lagoa focused on the Courts and the Constitution; Justice Labarga’s topic was Judicial Independence and Judicial Selection; Justice Muñiz discussed Judicial Review: The Case of Marbury v. Madison; and Justice Luck facilitated a Florida Constitution Scavenger Hunt.  In addition, Justice Lawson presented information about the Fourth Amendment "search and seizure" case that the teachers were studying in preparation for their mock oral argument: the centerpiece of the Court Teacher Institute experience—and the moment for which the teachers spend much of their time learning and readying themselves during their five days in Tallahassee.  Indeed, the teachers enacted their mock oral argument on the very case that the justices held their very real oral argument later that same morning.   

Justice Luck speaking to teachers

Justice Luck leads the teachers on a Florida Constitution scavenger hunt.

In addition to their sessions with the justices, teachers visited the Leon County Courthouse and the First District Court of Appeal for a hands-on opportunity to learn about the criminal court process and about how a case progresses through the state courts in Florida.  Also enriching their Court Teacher Institute experience was the daily mentoring of Ms Annette Boyd Pitts, executive director of the Florida Law Related Education Association, and of the two mentor judges—this year, Judge Kelly McKibbon, Eighteenth Circuit, and Judge Ross Goodman, First Circuit—who helped the teachers hone their mock oral argument skills, provided general instruction about the courts system, and recommended strategies for teaching young people about the judicial branch.    

The Court Teacher Institute is surely a gift that keeps on giving, for when the teachers return to their schools, many develop a courts unit for their classes, and others facilitate training programs for the teachers at their, and neighboring, schools.  These teachers have educated and inspired generations of students about the history, roles, and consequence of the third branch.  The institute is undoubtedly one of the courts system’s most promising efforts to introduce young learners to the vital role courts play in society.  This link goes to more information about the Court Teacher Institute.

Photo of Justices and Teachers at the Teaching Institute

After the teachers' mock oral argument and the justices' real oral argument, justices and teachers pose for a photo together.

(posted February 2019) / Return to top of page

Return to Full Court Press Spring 2019

Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice Presents to the House Civil Justice Subcommittee

By Paul Flemming, Public Information Officer

Logo for Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice

Gregory W. Coleman, chair of the executive committee of the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice, and State Courts Administrator PK Jameson presented to the House Civil Justice Subcommittee about the work of the Access Commission on January 24.

Coleman provided background and context to lawmakers about the extent of the issues facing low and moderate income citizens with legal problems. He also told committee members about how the judicial branch, the legal profession, and the Commission have worked to bridge the access gap in Florida.

Jameson provided two demonstrations of projects addressing access issues, the Commission’s Florida Courts Help app, and the Supreme Court Judicial Management Council’s DIY project, a collaborative effort among the courts, Florida clerks of court, and the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal.

You can watch the presentation, archived on The Florida Channel

(posted January 2019) / Return to top of page

Seventeenth Circuit Launches Community Court

By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

Among their many duties, Florida’s trial court chief judges are responsible for “ensur[ing] the efficient and proper administration of all courts within [their] circuit” [Florida Rules of Judicial Administration 2.215(b)(3)].  In this capacity, they are authorized “to do everything necessary to promote the prompt and efficient administration of justice” in their courts [s. 43.26(e), Florida Statutes].  Branch leaders are continually advancing strategies for improving the administration of justice in Florida.  One such strategy is the creation of specialized dockets designed to address the root causes of justice system involvement. 

The most widely recognized specialized docket in Florida is drug court—a “problem-solving court” concept that was pioneered in Dade County in 1989 and has been implemented world-wide.  But also prevalent are veterans courts, mental health courts, early childhood courts, and DUI courts (currently, Florida is home to approximately 170 of these courts).  Using the drug court concept as a model, chief judges across the state have developed other specialized dockets to respond to pressing needs in their circuits; for instance, Florida is now home to domestic violence courts, gun courts, human trafficking courts, neighborhood restorative justice courts, truancy courts, and teen courts. 

Chief Judge Tuter presides at Community Court

Chief Judge Tuter presides at Community Court with help from Broward County Clerks of Court staff.

Recently, a new specialized docket was launched in the Seventeenth Circuit.  The idea grew out of Chief Judge Jack Tuter’s observation of a highly disturbing pattern in the courts in Broward County: homeless people, charged with petty crime and municipal ordinance offenses, were cycling perpetually from the streets to the courts to the county jail and then onto the streets again.  Knowing that it costs approximately $140 per day to house a person in the Broward County Jail, he understood that jailing people for non-violent offenses like panhandling or sleeping on the beach is “a very inefficient way to spend tax dollars.”  Nor does a jail term resolve the underlying reasons for a defendant’s behavior.  After doing extensive research to learn how other courts in the nation have been handling this dilemma, and after 10 months of preparation—and with the help of a two-year, $200,000 federal grant from the nonprofit Center for Court Innovation—on January 9, 2019, Chief Judge Tuter launched Broward County’s first Community Court. 

Chief Judge Jack Tuter and Judge Florence Taylor Barner

Chief Judge Jack Tuter and Judge Florence Taylor Barner preside at Community Court.

Community Court is designed to “address the needs of at-large, homeless and low-level first time and repeat misdemeanants and municipal ordinance offenders.”  While holding individuals accountable for their conduct, it aims “to address root causes of each defendant’s behavior and to apply a therapeutic and community service-based component to punishment,” states the administrative order establishing the specialized docket.  The idea is to encourage offenders to take control of and overcome their problems, thereby helping them to permanently alter their behavior.    

To function most effectively, this specialized docket adopts a non-adversarial approach to handling eligible offenses (Community Court may address municipal ordinance violations such as trespass, disorderly conduct/disturbing the peace, public intoxication, and panhandling; it may also address state law violations such as misdemeanor drug possession, resisting arrest, simple assault, and loitering and prowling).  Moreover, its success relies on a team approach among justice system stakeholders, Broward County municipalities, and various for-profit and not-for-profit service and treatment centers, both governmental and private. 

Justice Lawson

With Justice Lawson's support, a defendant makes his way to the vehicle that will take him to a local treatment center.

With Justice Alan Lawson in attendance, the first Community Court was held at City Hall in Fort Lauderdale and was presided over by the chief judge and Broward County Judge Florence Taylor Barner, who heard four cases, all open container ordinance violations.  On site to offer support to the defendants were the following service providers: Care Resource, Sunserve, Second Chance Society, Opportunities Industrialization Centers of South Florida, Florida Licensing on Wheels, and Transportation and Mobility.  In return for utilizing the Community Court program, participants, when they are healthy enough, will be assigned 10 hours of community service in Downtown Fort Lauderdale.    

At this point, Community Court dockets will be heard once a week, every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at City Hall.  Chief Judge Tuter, who indicated that additional locations may be established in the future, touts the strategy “of offering services in lieu of punishment.  The Court's long-term goal,” he added, “is to work with City and County government to find both temporary and permanent housing for those who enter into and complete community court goals.”  If Community Court works as anticipated, it’ll be a “win” for everyone in the county, for recidivism rates of repeat offenders will begin to decline; in turn, overall criminal justice and incarceration costs will decrease, and the safety and quality of life for all Broward County residents will be enhanced.

(posted January 2019) / Return to top of page

Return to Full Court Press Spring 2019

St. Petersburg Pilot Project Brings Mediation Option to Landlord-Tenant Disputes

By Stephen Thompson, Public Information Officer, Sixth Judicial Circuit

In an effort to make it easier for landlords and their tenants to resolve their disputes without the tenant being evicted, the Sixth Judicial Circuit is launching a six-month pilot program whose aim it is to encourage mediation. Historically, once a landlord files a petition to have a tenant evicted, the tenant has to respond in five days and enter the disputed rent in a registry. If the tenant fails to complete either of those two tasks, a judge typically orders the tenant evicted.

Image of Judge Kelly, Sixth Judicial Circuit

Judge Kelly, Sixth Judicial Circuit

If, however, the tenant completes those two tasks, the case is set for a hearing. Under the pilot program, a Pinellas County judge will now ask the landlord and tenant to leave the courtroom and see if they can work out their differences. One of the circuit’s contracted mediators will be on hand to assist, said Michelle Ardabily, chief deputy court administrator for the circuit. If the two parties can reach an agreement outside court, both will sign a court document to that effect, which the judge can then approve, Ardabily said. If they cannot, the judge will proceed to hear the full case.

The pilot program will take place at the courthouse in downtown St. Petersburg, where county judges Edwin Jagger and Lorraine Kelly handle eviction proceedings. It commenced on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, and will last through June. Eviction proceedings at the old historic courthouse in Clearwater will proceed as they always have. Eviction proceedings in Pasco, the other county in the sixth circuit, will also proceed as they always have.

The pilot program is just one effort made in 2018 by the Residential Eviction Access to Justice Collaborative, to expand access to justice for those in the community facing eviction. Members of the collaborative have visited eviction mediation programs in the judicial circuit in West Palm Beach and in the circuit comprising Seminole and Brevard counties.

In addition to working toward setting up the pilot program, the collaborative has also successfully worked toward amending the eviction notices issued by the Pinellas Clerk of Court to include information regarding inexpensive or free legal aid for beleaguered tenants, according to Kimberly Rodgers, executive director for the Community Law Program in St. Petersburg. Ardabily and Rodgers are members of the collaborative, as are various legal aid attorneys, housing officials, and retired judge David Seth Walker.
The collaborative has also established relationships with a handful of agencies that provide rental assistance, and it has secured a small amount of funding itself to pay some tenants’ past due rent, Rodgers said.

Funding for the collaborative’s efforts in 2018 was provided by Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, a non-profit organization that works toward improving health equity in south Pinellas County. The collaborative has already secured some funding from the Florida Bar Foundation for its 2019 efforts, which will include working with the sixth circuit to monitor and evaluate the circuit’s mediation pilot program and supporting its expansion countywide.

(posted January 2019) / Return to top of page

Florida Supreme Court Archives Grow with the Donations of Departing Justices Pariente and Quince

By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer

The Florida Supreme Court Library, established in 1845, is the oldest of Florida’s state-supported libraries.  Serving the entire state courts system, the library also harbors the supreme court archives, which contain primary documents of Florida Supreme Court history related to the court and its justices.  In 1982, the supreme court librarian at the time had the notion of engaging the assistance of some of the dignitaries of the legal community to seek out, collect, preserve, and make publicly available the important historical documents of the members of Florida’s highest court.  His idea galvanized the creation of the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society; together, the librarian and the historical society began the process of building the collection—and the archives came into being.

Image of Erik, archivist, with boxes

Florida Supreme Court Archivist Erik Robinson begins the task of arranging the records donated by retired Justices Pariente and Quince; the documents have already filled 190 boxes.

Thanks to the abiding partnership between the historical society and the library, the archives continue to thrive.  Retiring Justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince are the latest donors.  So far, the records they have donated include office files, travel files, opinion files, speeches, and correspondence.  The archivist has already filled 190 boxes (each box holds one and one-half cubic feet of papers), with a few more to come.  Though some of the papers are confidential, many of these records will soon be available to researchers, scholars, and other members of the public.      

The collection now includes papers of 29 justices and comprises more than 1,100 boxes of records, including justices’ administrative papers, professional correspondence, texts of speeches, notes from their work on court committees, personal papers, and opinion files.  The collection also includes the work of numerous court commissions, the 1966 Constitution Revision Commission papers, and papers related to the revision of section 14 to Article V of the Florida Constitution, commonly referred to as Revision 7 (a 1998 constitutional amendment that required the state to assume responsibility for funding the state courts system).  (Follow this link to discover what materials are housed in the archives.)

(posted January 2019) / Return to top of page

Return to Full Court Press Spring 2019