Florida courts should be spared another round of budget-cutting, since judges continue to struggle with a system strained by dockets swollen by home and business foreclosures, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady told a Senate panel Tuesday.
Courts have absorbed a roughly 10 percent reduction in support staff since the recession began even as the economic collapse has made foreclosures a "crushing burden on the court system," Canady said. He asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to shield Florida courts from further reductions as lawmakers seek to close a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
"We are a lean system," Canady said. "Any additional cuts of any significance will really hamper our ability to meet the needs of the people who come to the court system…seeking justice." The court system is largely financed by a $370 million trust fund – which, in turn, is drawing the bulk of its dollars from fees paid in foreclosure cases.
But even as they drive dollars into the system, foreclosures are crowding courts with delays and legal complexities.
Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said lawmakers could consider restructuring foreclosure fees to include penalties for delays. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, also proposed to Canady that legislation could be enacted to delay judges' retirement ages – from the current age 70 to as much as age 77, in an effort to save state money.
Canady drew no questions from committee members about the controversy surrounding the $49 million First District Court of Appeal building in Tallahassee, derided by many critics as an example of lavish spending. But he later acknowledged the courthouse may hurt claims of frugality.
"We have taken steps to assure that similar problems don't occur in the future," Canady said. "I think it's really a separate issue than the funding of the judicial system."
— John Kennedy
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The News Service of Florida