Florida bills would provide additional funding for courts, but only if judicial immunity is retroactively ended and judicial disciplinary commission changed

Ever since the 2006 effort in South Dakota to end judicial immunity and allow for civil and criminal prosecution for judicial decisions, called bluntly enough JAIL4Judges and defeated 89%-11%, legislators have taken an interest in similar efforts. Simultaneous with this interest has been the ongoing state budgetary crises. For the second time in as many years, Florida legislators are looking to consolidate both issues (see here for my post on the 2010 effort).

SB 1524 requires a retroactive elimination of judicial immunity in a variety of specified contexts dealing with court proceedings.  Additionally, it expands the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) and requires JQC investigation panels include at least 5 “common citizen electors” as a staff committee, none of whom may be “officers of the court” and who must prepare a separate report on the investigation that is to be made publicly available. Both the state courts system in general, and the JQC in particular, would be subject to an immediate audit by the state’s Auditor General and the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability conduct full audit review of commission, a review to be repeated every two years.

Additionally, SB 1524 requires the Supreme Court create a plan “promoting civics for residents of this state, together with education concerning the judicial branch in order to develop trust and confidence in the state’s judicial system.” It also creates unified family courts, teen courts, drug courts and mental health courts in each judicial circuit.

If SB 1524, “or similar legislation” is passed, the provisions of SB 1526 would/could go into effect. That bill creates a Fiscal Stability Trust Fund to be administered by the Supreme Court and into which would be placed an automatic, guaranteed 1 percent of the state’s General Revenue Fund. The bill also declares “the judicial branch of state government shall be held harmless in years of fiscal deficits in the state as a matter of public safety” and permits revenues in the Fiscal Stability Trust Fund to remain in the fund at the end of every fiscal year.

Both bills have been prefiled in the Senate, with no committee assignments as of yet.