Florida House Judiciary Committee to take up nine bills that would reshape the state’s judicial branch

I’ve noted several bills that have been pressed by Florida’s House Speaker and their prior hearing dates, including March 17 (see here), along with delays on the Senate side on their versions (see here). Tomorrow, April 7 may prove a fateful day for such efforts. Among the bills on the committee’s agenda:

HJR 1097, a constitutional amendment that ends the state’s merit selection system for future Supreme Court and district courts of appeals judges. Instead, those seeking initial terms would be appointed by the governor with senate confirmation. HJR 1097 would, however keep retention elections for subsequent terms. This had previously been approved by the Civil Justice Subcommittee on March 17.

HJR 7025, a constitutional amendment that repeals the Supreme Court’s power, and that of any court, to adopt rules for the practice and procedure. Instead, the Supreme Court could recommend such rules to the legislature, which would have the power to adopt, amend, or reject any proposed or existing rule by law.

HB 7027 is a bill with statutory changes related to HJR 7025. In addition to specifying how the supreme court’s recommendations to the legislature would be handled, it would also create a judicial conference made up of the chief justice, the chief judge of each district court of appeal, and circuit judges and gives it broad oversight over the state’s judiciary.

HJR 7037, a constitutional amendment that provides all records, materials, & proceedings related to complaints & investigations of Judicial Qualifications Commission not otherwise exempt from disclosure are public upon filing of formal charges against judge or upon determination by commission or investigative panel that formal charges will not be filed. This is similar, but not identical, to SJR 1704 approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 4.

HJR 7039, a constitutional amendment that requires justices or judges receive at least 60% of vote to be retained in office starting with 2012 election.

HB 7101, a statutory change that replaces entirely the state’s existing judicial nominating commissions. New commissions would be selected entirely by the governor with no input from the state bar (currently, bar sends three names for each vacancy for the governor to select from). The bill sets terms of the commission members concurrent with the governor and retains provisions that commission members selection should “ensure that, to the extent possible, the membership of the commission reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, as well as the geographic distribution” of the population and that the Executive Office of the Governor shall provide all administrative support for each judicial nominating commission.

HJR 7111 a constitutional amendment that would rename the existing Supreme Court the Supreme Court of Civil Appeals and create a second court of last resort (a Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals). Both courts would be made up of five justices selected using the existing merit selection system, each with its own judicial nominating commission. The three most senior justices of the existing Supreme Court would transfer to the new Supreme Court of Criminal Appeal and the existing Supreme Court’s pending caseload divided.

The constitutional amendment specifies the two courts “are to be separate courts of last resort”, this in contrast to the original reports that the proposal would simply expand the existing supreme court into two panels of five. The constitutional amendment would provide the chief justices of these courts would be named by the governor subject to senate confirmation (the current chief justice is chosen by the court itself). While both courts (acting jointly) would still be able to recommend increases in the number of trial judges, rule-making powers of the court(s) would be curtailed by a new provision that “Administration of the court system shall be as provided in general law.” Moreover, the Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals would hear complaints from the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission.

HB 7119, repeals statutory provisions relating to requirement that district court sit in three judge panels & have majority for decision & requirement that clerk of district court perform duties prescribed by rule of court. This had been noticed for hearing and action previously on March 24 and March 30, but the bill was never taken up for consideration.

HB 7199 would change numerous statutes putting HJR 7111 into effect.

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