2012 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. 

News & Initiatives

 Family Members Honor James B. Ueberhorst, First Florida State Courts Administrator

Posted August 31, 2012

The Office of the State Courts Administrator recently celebrated its 40th Anniversary (1972 - 2012) as an integral part of the Florida court system. On July 27, judges and many former OSCA staff joined the current OSCA staff in a two hour celebration in a packed Supreme Court Courtroom.

However, the celebration did not end there. On August 28, Jenny Ueberhorst Phipps, daughter (pictured at far left), and Cathy Ueberhorst, daughter-in-law (pictured at far right) of James Bernt Ueberhorst visited the Court to honor their relative. Mr. Ueberhorst (below right) was the first State Courts Administrator, serving in that capacity from 1972 - 1974.  In addition to his service in the Florida courts, Mr. Ueberhorst was an assistant general counsel for the Central Intelligence Agency, worked with the United States Supreme Court for four years as chief of the division of management review, and served as a special assistant to the assistant director for the administrative office of the United States Courts.  He also owned and operated a consulting firm before his death in 1996.

In the photo above, current State Courts Administrator, Lisa Goodner, displays the framed document that proclaims the 40th Anniversary of the Office of the State Courts Administrator. Ms. Phipps and Ms. Ueberhorst were given documents related to the celebration, as well as a tour of the Supreme Court Building.

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 Reflections . . . Musings on Court Administration Past and Present as OSCA Celebrates its 40th Birthday

By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer, OSCA

Posted July 18, 2012

Forty years ago, more than two-thirds of Florida voters approved reforms to Article V of the state constitution that sought to bring greater consistency and uniformity to the judicial branch.  The ultimate goal of these reforms was to ensure that litigants receive similar treatment under Florida law, regardless of where they live.  The 1972 constitutional revision had seismic effects on the judicial branch: outcomes included the reorganization of Florida’s 16 different types of trial courts into a two-tier system of 20 circuit and 67 county courts; the institution of a series of requirements designed to ensure that judges would be qualified and impartial; and the requirement that all judges’ salaries be paid by the state, rather than by local governments.  Because it simplified and consolidated the structure of the trial courts, creating uniform jurisdictions with clean geographic divisions, this Article V rewrite is generally celebrated for instigating the process of unifying and shaping what we now know as the Florida State Courts System. 

Less known, perhaps, is that these reforms also defined clear lines of administrative authority and responsibility in the judicial branch.  Specifically, the Article V revision designated the chief justice as the chief administrative officer of the entire court system, and it created the position of chief judge, making the chief judge responsible for the administrative supervision of his or her court.

Even in 1972, in a Florida that was, in many ways, far simpler and more rustic than it is today, the compass of the branch’s administrative responsibilities was prodigious, far too sweeping to be accomplished by a single sitting member of the state’s highest court.  So, to serve the chief justice in carrying out these responsibilities, the supreme court established the position of the state courts administrator.  The initial focus of the state courts administrator’s office was handling administrative matters for the appellate courts and developing a uniform case reporting system to glean information about activities of the judiciary.  Eventually, the duties of the Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) grew to include budgetary, intergovernmental, statistical, technological, educational, programmatic, and legal responsibilities related to the operations of, as well as ministerial duties for, the state courts. 

For many years, the DCAs and trial courts have also had professional court administrators: each of the 20 circuits has a trial court administrator (TCA) who assists the chief judge in his or her role as the administrative supervisor of the circuit and county courts, and each of the five DCAs has a marshal, a constitutional officer under Article V who assists the chief judge in implementing administrative policy.  Because court administrators and their staff attend to the effectiveness and efficiency of court operations, judges are able to concentrate on adjudicatory, rather than administrative, tasks.
This year, OSCA turns 40 years old.  To mark this milestone, this article looks back at some of the more pronounced and interesting changes that have transformed court administration in Florida over the years.  The article is based on the reflections of seven people who, since the mid-80s, have held court administrative positions in various courts in the state (they will be introduced later in the story).  Taken together, their anecdotes and musings create a colorful, richly-textured panorama of court administration past and present.

The Courts Grow Up

Within the last 30 years, three transformations have been so profound and far-reaching that all seven interviewees discussed them at length.  One of the first everyone mentioned was how dramatically the court system has grown in nearly three decades.  When the interviewees first began their work with the branch, courts did not yet have court interpreters, trial court law clerks, staff attorneys, case managers, or hearing officers, for instance.  And although some neighborhoods had citizen dispute settlement centers, court-based mediation hadn’t yet transformed the court system.  No one gave much thought to emergency management or strategic planning or performance and accountability in those days.  –Or to specialized dockets: teen court, drug court, mental health court, veterans court, elder court, and business court weren’t on the radar yet.  Most everything about the branch was less copious back then.  For instance, in the mid-80s, the state had just more than half the current number of  judges—but the faces of justice were not particularly diverse: most judges were white, middle-aged males (the racial and ethnic bias study, the gender bias study, and the ADA-inspired court facilities survey had not been conceived yet). 
Over time, Florida’s population burgeoned and diversified, and its communities became more interdependent.  Accordingly, court workloads increased, as did the complexity of the social and legal issues that came before the courts; simultaneously, people’s expectations of the courts were heightening significantly.  These were among the factors that propelled the need for professional court management, emphasized the interviewees.  Administrative demands were becoming increasingly rarified and specialized, making it impossible for just a few people to continue doing all the administrative work of a court.  For instance, in the 80s, to be a capable TCA, one had to be a jack of all trades who could, on his or her own, perform most all the circuit’s administrative functions—e.g., finance and accounting, budgeting, personnel, technology, facilities management.  But as the work of the courts became increasingly complex, court administrators had to hire people with specific expertise in these fields.  One TCA remembers that, in 1985, his circuit had 14 circuit and eight county judges, and he and his office staff of three were able to complete the various administrative duties; now, for a population that’s almost doubled, the circuit has 28 circuit and 12 county court judges, and it takes 138 court staff to perform all the circuit’s administrative responsibilities.  The level of professionalism of every aspect of court administration, from court interpreters to law clerks, has changed dramatically, a former TCA noted: “Court administration has undergone a real growing up,” she reflected. 

Technological Revolutions

Contemplating the technological changes they’d witnessed over the years, interviewees chuckled over the primitive tools they used to have to rely on to do their jobs.  In the mid-80s, for instance, all of OSCA—which employed around 60 people then—had only four telephone lines; calls came in to a receptionist, who operated the switchboard and routed the calls to the appropriate person.  A big old clunky rotary phone sat on everyone’s desk.  If someone needed to make a call, he or she would have to watch the lights on the phone to see when a line became available.  And when calls came in while people were away from their desks, they’d return to find a passel of “while you were out” messages stuck to their door; everyone had a spindle on his/her desk for stashing these message slips.  Also, for every long distance call people made—and, when offices eventually got fax machines, for every fax people sent—they had to fill out a log book, listing the date, the phone (or fax) number, and the reason for the call—“a time-consuming, antiquated system,” everyone agreed.

The phones weren’t the only dinosaurs in court administrative offices.  Most offices had only one copier for everyone who worked there.  OSCA had what was described as “a single, humongous 3M copier that had already made over a million copies in 1988.”  As one interviewee recalled, if she had a big copy job, she had to reserve time on the machine. 

Naturally, very few people had computers back then—and those who had them usually had to share them; and what computers were able to do was rather limited.  The sorts of tasks that we hardly think about anymore because they are now automated—like tracking bills, checking case citations, administering attendance and leave, advertising jobs, doing instant criminal background checks—were often painfully laborious manual processes that took huge chunks of time to accomplish.  And of course it goes without saying that email wasn’t even in gestation back then, prompting everyone to remark on the ease with which we now can access information and communicate with one another.  But, as one interviewee pointed out, because she could never get instant information, data, or responses to her questions in those days, the pace of work, of life, was necessarily slower and more measured.  Nonetheless, all the interviewees agreed that they can do many aspects of their jobs far more easily now, given the colossal advances in the equipment and tools that are available.    

Revision 7

The third matter that all seven interviewees mentioned was Revision 7 and the changes that followed in its wake.  Passed by voters in 1998 and implemented in 2004, Revision 7 brought about budgetary unification in Florida’s courts.  Since the 1972 Article V overhaul, the state had been funding the salaries of judges and their assistants, but the counties were paying most of the other costs of running the court system, which often meant substantial discrepancies in funding and services between one county and another.   Revision 7 was designed to relieve local governments of the increasing costs of subsidizing the trial courts and to ensure equity in court funding for each county—thereby providing all Floridians with access to the same essential trial court services, regardless of where in the state they reside. 

Interviewees remarked that Revision 7 significantly helped foster the system aspect of the Florida State Court System—and helped court personnel begin seeing themselves as part of that system.  As several pointed out, we’re still not fully unified—but all agreed that we’re considerably more unified now than we were before the passage of this constitutional amendment.  Because of this unification, the branch is better able to speak with a clear and consistent voice and can develop statewide policies in a more thoughtful and deliberate manner.  This unification also has made it possible to embark on a range of ambitious statewide projects, like the construction of an electronic courts structure. 

Other Changes

In addition to the three major metamorphosing issues discussed above, each interviewee also had observations about other, less dramatic changes they’d noticed over the years. 

Nick Sudzina, who has been the TCA with the Tenth Circuit since 1985, talked about the significant changes in the jobs of everyone in the court system, both judges and court personnel.  When he first began working in the courts, judges actually did some of the administrative work, like case management, themselves—“but that was before the courts had to deal with this amount and scope and complexity of litigation,” he explained.  He also described some of the ways TCA responsibilities have evolved over time: “This workplace is always changing, so the job of TCA has to keep changing with it.  Now, TCAs need a background in areas like judicial administration, court management, managerial skills, and communications.” Also different now is “the increasing presence of the news media; they seem to be watching government closely, especially the courts because of the funding dilemma.”  This reminded him of an aspect of his job that has not changed: “Funding is always a challenge,” he conceded.  Another unchanging feature is that his job is “always rewarding: I learn something new each day.  The job is always challenging, but it’s always a pleasure to come to work.”

Like job responsibilities, court programs have also changed considerably. Susan Leseman has been with OSCA since 1985, first as a program attorney for what is now called the Court Education Section and then as the chief of Court Education; she is now the managing attorney for OSCA’s Publications Unit.  Over the years, she’s seen great changes in the court education programs—which recently began including programs for court personnel too: “The education programs have grown to meet the complexities of the jobs that judges and court personnel do,” she explained.  For example, in the early 80s, the agenda for the circuit judges program had a criminal and a civil track; now, there are also tracks for juvenile, family, probate/guardianship, and general interest, such as evidence.  In addition, new programs had to be developed to meet the expanding educational needs of judges, so now there’s a pre-bench program, a program for new appellate judges, the Advanced Judicial Studies program, and distance learning programs.  “We have moved from chalkboards to overhead projectors to PowerPoint to LCD projectors to web-based programs—a huge technological leap that better facilitates learning,” she added.  Because her unit coordinated and staffed most of the programs, she often had to travel, and she remembers when the per diem allowances were a mere $3 for breakfast, $6 for lunch, and $12 for dinner; the mileage reimbursement was only 21 cents per mile.  “You always lost money when you travelled,” she observed.

Although state money has almost always been constrained, circuits were often able to find other sources of funding for cutting-edge programs. 

Tom Long was the TCA at the Sixteenth Circuit from 1984 – 1989 and then at the Second Circuit from 1989 – 1999; following that, he became the OSCA general services manager until he retired last summer.  For him, a big difference between his early days in court administration and now is that circuits used to have access to local grant money, which made it possible for courts to be highly pioneering.  Grant money supported breakthroughs like the pretrial release program, management information systems technology, neighborhood justice centers, and some specialized court dockets.  “What was innovative back then is standard now,” he commented.  But now it’s much harder to get grant money, “So the progressive, innovative circuits are finding it hard to fund good concepts.”  As a result, “Innovation is more likely to come out of court committees; it’s more likely to originate in Tallahassee, not at the circuit level.”

However, some of these Tallahassee-based innovations have definitely been momentous.  Debbie Howells, who has been with OSCA since 1988, is the executive assistant for State Courts Administrator Lisa Goodner.  The state has undergone many changes since she first began working for the courts, when “Florida was still wild and woolly and rough and loosely-populated.”  And the court system has grown to accommodate those changes.  She called attention to two in particular: the branch’s increasing focus on intergovernmental relations and the growing cooperation between the court system and the clerks, who have recently been working together on projects like funding stabilization, e-filing, and the e-portal.  But she also emphasized that some things haven’t changed.  For example, in all these years, “Florida’s court system continues to be a trailblazer, a leader, nationally.”  Florida was a trailblazer with mediation, she remarked, and it was also “the first state to engage in a study about the economic impact on the state’s economy of an under-funded court system.”  So, even with all its changes, “Florida continues to be resourceful and creative.”

David Pepper also brought up the court system’s relatively new emphasis on intergovernmental relations.  Dr. Pepper, who has had several positions with OSCA’s Personnel Services since 1987 (personnel manager, the chief of Personnel Services, and court operations consultant), called attention to the amount of time and energy that now goes into addressing legislative affairs as they affect the judicial branch.  Years ago, “The court system generally got the resources it needed,” and only the state courts administrator and his deputies played a role in tracking legislation and meeting with lawmakers and their staff.  “But with so much competition now for limited state resources, the courts have had to get more involved in the process,” he explained:  now, the justices, chief judges, the two budget commissions, and other judicial leaders participate; OSCA has an Office of Intergovernmental and Community Affairs; and most all of OSCA is involved in what has truly become a “team effort.”  Another significant change he noted is that “various employee relations issues are in the forefront now”—like sensitivity to diversity, sexual harassment, and ADA compliance.

Broadly speaking, all the interviewees expounded on the court system’s growing professionalism, in one way or another—and Theresa Westerfield addressed it very emphatically.  Ms Westerfield was with the Sixteenth Circuit from 1988 – 2005, first as the first director of the Pretrial Release Program and then as the TCA; then she moved to Tallahassee, first serving as the OSCA budget administrator and now as the chief of Personnel Services.  She emphasized the “high level of professionalism I now see in every element of the court system,” gesturing toward court interpreters as an example.  When she was TCA, if a party needed a spoken language court interpreter, “you just grabbed whoever you could grab because there were no court interpreters.”  Also, back then, she recalled, “Court reporters were like judicial assistants in that they were assigned to a judge, not a courtroom,” and they got paid by the transcript page—“The more they did, the more they earned,” she explained.  “Then, in about 1995, they became court employees, and that was a big deal; it really changed their relationship with the court,” she reflected.  Today’s standards are truly high, she stressed—especially when compared to some past informalities: when she was in Key West, for example, “Lawyers didn’t even have to wear socks to court,” she playfully quipped (of course, she did add that that was probably only true in Key West).

Court facilities have also become more formal and more professionally outfitted over time.  Glen Rubin was the OSCA purchasing director from 1984 – 1995 and has been the marshal with the Fourth DCA since then.  He remembers when it was perfectly acceptable to smoke in the supreme court building—and when brass spittoons were among the items in the property inventory.  He was there when the first woman was appointed to the supreme court in 1985: like the other justices, Justice Rosemary Barkett had her chambers on the top floor.  But that floor only had a men’s room; in those days, women—judicial assistants and some of the law clerks—had to go downstairs for a restroom.  Building personnel quickly “had to figure out how to get a bathroom for Justice Barkett.”  But one of the most significant changes over the years was the adoption of security features for the building.  At first, “The building had no metal detectors or scanners: anyone could walk in.”  There were only two security guards, one at the front entrance and one at a side entrance; the rest of the entrances—and there were many—were unsecured.  (Back then, he added, to be a security guard, “The only requirements were a sixth grade education and the ability to follow directions.”)  This conspicuous security lack wasn’t addressed until a rather controversial supreme court decision led to death threats against some of the justices.

In this impressive vista of changes that the interviewees shared—some of the memories humorous, some astonishing, some instructive, some nostalgia-provoking—one other point came up again and again.  Over the last few decades, the court system has definitely become more open, more transparent, more accessible—think about cameras in the courtroom, for instance, and about the astronomic amount of information available on each court’s website.  Paradoxically, however, it has also become, to an extent, more closed off, less personal, and less intimate, they remarked.  While praising the ease and speed of communication, they also bemoaned the disintegration of social contact, of connections, of warmth.  That reality seemed to give everyone pause for thought....     

Florida 1972 Versus Florida Today

Florida is one of the fastest growing states in the nation, expanding from a population of 8 million in 1972 to 18.8 million in 2010.

In response to the stunning growth in residents, tourists, businesses, and caseloads over the years, the court system has had to expand.  From 1972 to 2012, district court of appeal judgeships increased from 20 to 61 judges (Florida had only four DCAs in 1972).  During the same timeframe, the number of trial court judges more than doubled, with circuit court judgeships increasing from 261 to 599, and with county court judgeships increasing from 135 to 322.  Florida’s highest court has had seven justices since 1940.

According to the Eighteenth Annual Report of the Judicial Council of Florida (Feb. 1973), in fiscal year 1971/1972, Florida’s judges disposed of just under 400,000 cases.  These days, Florida’s judges dispose of over 4.5 million cases a year.   (Please keep in mind that the methods for capturing statistical data have become increasingly more reliable over time.  In addition, the kind of filings data the court system collects has changed over the years.  Therefore, these numbers are not precisely comparable.)

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 Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day

Posted May 3, 2012

The U.S. Congress issued a resolution supporting the goals and ideals of “Take our Daughters and Sons to Work” Day and designated April 26, 2012, as the date to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this program.  Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is intended to expose children to the workplace allowing them to learn more about what their parents or mentors do during the workday as well as learn more about themselves and opportunities for their future.

As a result, this year, many OSCA employees participated by bringing to the office their daughter, son, relative, or mentee.  The age range for children who could participate in the program was 8 to 18 years of age.

Justice Barbara J. Pariente took time out on this day to invite children to her chambers. Justice Pariente described how the highest court in Florida operates, and she also discussed her role as a justice and what that involves. Above she poses a hypothetical question about whether or not imposing a dress code (wearing a uniform to school) violates the children's First Amendment rights. At right, three attendees ponder their answer

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