Florida Senate’s proposal to pay judges incentive bonuses for disposing of cases faster

Should judges be paid an incentive “bonus” if they or their circuit dispose of a certain number of cases as determined by the legislature? That was the topic of debate for the Florida Senate in March and April of 2011.

The plan was first introduced in the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations on March 17. The plan consisted of three elements:

  1. $10,820,160 in appropriations for the Judicial Caseload Incentive Plan
  2. A set of circuit-by-circuit performances goals for FY 2011-12 for the state’s two levels of trial court (Circuit and County), broken down by casetype and action. (for details, see pdf pages 14 to 18 here)
  3. A quarterly review as to the meeting of the goals. Achievement would mean a $3,000 for each judge in the circuit with the assigned casetype (i.e. civil or criminal).

The statutory language for the plan can be found in Section 18 of SPB 7086 / SB 2002 and Section 1 of SPB 7120 / SB 2116.

Debate began in the Budget subcommittee on March 17 and carried over to March 21. Proponents argued an incentive program was a way to “light the fire” under judges who were perceived of as being slow to clear their dockets. Opponents argued that connecting money for judges to their disposal of cases would be horrible in terms of the appearance of propriety.

A modified version of the plan focusing on civil cases only was adopted by the full Senate Budget Committee and the full Senate but was ultimately rejected in a House/Senate conference committee.

Selected excerpts from the subcommittee and committees hearings can be found in the video below. Full video from the subcommittee and committee proceedings are below the fold.