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 keysnews.com.
Monroe County currently has four judges who serve an area that includes the wide-ranging Florida Keys.
The 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 judges.”
“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.
The opinion issued is reached through a series of “calculations” that include: “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.
“One of 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.”
Currently, Monroe County Court judges are elected to six-year terms. Current judges are Wayne Miller, Peary Fowler, Ruth Becker and Sharon Hamilton.
“So 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.