I noted that April 7 was a big day in the Florida House Judiciary Committee, with 9 separate bills affecting a wide range of elements of the judiciary. Elements of the nine, and some other bills that were not on the calendar that day, were consolidated and passed as a Committee Substitute to HJR 7111 on a party line 12-6 vote. For a news account and other details, check out this Gavel Grab post.
HJR 7111 was originally going to divide the state’s Supreme Court into two entirely different courts: a Supreme Court of Civil Appeals and a Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals (see here for details). Instead, the committee substitute:
- expands the existing 7 member court to 10
- divides them into two panels of five (civil and criminal) each with its own chief justice, each requiring 4 justices for a quorum.
- The three most senior justices of the existing Supreme Court would initially be assigned to the criminal division.
- The new 10 member Court would be required to inventory all cases active at the time the court is divided and assign them to their respective divisions.
- The justices are expressly prohibited from meeting en banc, with specific exceptions discussed below.
- The “legislature may, by general law, otherwise provide for the administrative transfer of employees, property, duties, and functions between the divisions.”
The Chief Justice of the State of Florida
- would alternate every four years between the two divisions
- be chosen by the Governor with Senate confirmation (currently, the Supreme Court selects its own chief justice); however the chief justice of the civil division would be the initial Chief Justice.
- Divisional chief justices would serve for 8 years, but to remain as a justice of the supreme court they must be re-elected to the court every 6 years.
HJR 7111 would keep the state’s judicial nomination commissions, but require for Supreme Court justices only, nominees selected by the governor be subject to senate confirmation. There is a time limit: if the Senate fails to confirm within 90 days the individual is deemed confirmed. The Yes/No retention election system for all judges would remain (there had been efforts to increase the requirement to 60% Yes vote for retention).
- The justices of both divisions (7 needed for a quorum) would meet jointly to set court rules, provide administrative supervision of the courts, and handle disciplinary cases.
- The divisions would meet jointly regarding rules or may assign categories of the rules to the divisions.
- Rules of the judicial nominating commissions would need to be approved by a majority vote of the justices of both divisions.
- Rules of the judicial qualifications commission would need the affirmative vote of 7 of the 10 justices.
- Except for these rule making/administrative functions, the justices would otherwise expressly prohibited from meeting en banc.
The legislature would be able to repeal any rule adopted by the Supreme Court
- by a majority vote (currently, requires two-thirds of legislature)
- The court could readopt the rule, so long as it was in conformance with the expressed policy expressed in the repeal bill or resolution.
- If the rule was repealed a second time, the Supreme Court could not readopted it
- “The legislature shall be the final authority to determine whether an adopted rule is again repealed.”
The biggest and most obvious jurisdiction change would be the civil/criminal distinction. There is an entire section of HJR 7111 dedicated to defining the difference between a criminal and civil case for divisional purposes.
- The civil division would expressly be prohibited from hearing any cases that had any had anything, directly or indirectly, to do with the death penalty
- Where there was a conflict between the divisions as to whether a case was civil or criminal, the current Chief Justice of Florida would decide.
- The legislature would be able to “further define” the cases heard by each division.
- Only a justice in the criminal division would be allowed to issue a writ of corpus in a criminal case.
- The divisions of the new Supreme Court would be able to take any case up from the intermediate appellate court (district courts of appeal) that is found by to be “of great public importance.”
Salary & Budget
- Commencing in FY 2013-2014, the state’s judiciary would be given a constitutional guarantee of a “total appropriation of all fund sources to the judicial branch  equal [to] no less than 2.25 percent of the total general revenue funds appropriated in the general appropriation bill referred to in Section 19(b) of Article III.”
- Any adjustments via a special appropriations act would be equal to no more than the percent of total general revenue appropriations adjusted in such special appropriations act.
- The bill removes the power of the Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal to name its Clerks and Marshals.
- Removes the Governor’s power to ask the judicial qualifications commission for all information investigations/complaints against judges.
- The commission would still be obligated to turn such information over, on request, to the House of Representatives. All information so turned over would remain confidential during any investigation and until such information is used in the pursuit of any impeachment.