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. 

Recent News & Updates

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

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

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