TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida
Supreme Court has issued its annual opinion on judicial workloads in
the state — and one of its recommendations is to decrease the
number of Monroe County court judges by one, according to
Monroe County currently has four judges
who serve an area that includes the wide-ranging Florida Keys.
opinion, entitled “The Certification of Need for Additional
Judges,” was issued Dec. 15, according to www.flkeysnews.com. In
all, the court recommends that six Florida counties have more judges
than needed while eight counties should be given additional bench
seats on their respective county courts.
Dustin Hunter, an
attorney at Robertson and Hunter LLP in Key West and the vice
president of the Monroe County Bar Association, told The
Florida Record that in Monroe County, “we are disappointed
at the prospect of potentially losing one of our county court
“The biggest concern that I have is
the effect that the loss of a judge would have on Court access for
litigants,” he said.
The Supreme Court issues its opinion to the
state legislature who then decides if they should make the necessary
budget adjustments to implement the court's suggested cuts and
additions. The court has the authority to issue its opinion on
judicial numbers through Article V, section 9 of the Florida
Constitution, according to www.floridasupremecourt.org.
opinion issued is reached through a series of “calculations” that
“A one-month time study (quantitative component) involving all
county court and circuit court judges along with all quasi-judicial
officers occurred in October 2015. Site visits to eight judicial
circuits, the distribution of a sufficiency of time survey to all
trial court judges, and qualitative adjustment sessions comprise the
qualitative aspect of the workload study.”
However, the area
Monroe County covers makes it different, Hunter said.
the main reasons that Monroe County currently has four county court
judges is because of the geographical distribution of our county,”
he said. “We have three courthouses divided over the approximately
100-mile stretch from Plantation Key to Key West. Most of that
stretch consists of only one lane traveling in either direction.
“If we were to lose a county judge
seat, the practical effect would be that we would have significant
travel over this stretch of roadway required of the remaining judges.
That travel time consists of a 4½ -hour round trip from Plantation
Key to Key West and a 2½-hour round trip from Key West to Marathon.
This travel time, that is unique to Monroe County, serves to
exacerbate the scheduling problem that is already created by taking a
judge away from his or her home courtroom.”
County Court judges are elected to six-year terms. Current judges are
Wayne Miller, Peary Fowler, Ruth Becker and Sharon Hamilton.
I do have a very real concern that the elimination of a judgeship
could result in extended wait periods for litigants in their efforts
to schedule court time as we may find our remaining judges spending a
good deal of their time traveling up and down the Keys, rather than
being available for court scheduling,” Hunter said.