Florida: bills grant liability exemption for clerks of court that release confidential information if filer fails to make it clear info is confidential

What happens when a document is filed with the court that contains confidential information, but the filer does not indicate it? And then the clerk of court releases that information?

Under Florida HB 441 / SB 202 the clerk would not be liable for the release.

Specifically, the bills as amended provide

The clerk of the court is not liable for the release of information that is required by the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration to be identified by the filer as confidential if the filer fails to make the required identification of the confidential information to the clerk of the court.

The bills, as originally filed, included the word “inadvertent” (“The clerk of the court is not liable for the inadvertent release…”)

HB 441 as amended is now pending in the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee having been initially approved 15-0 by that group. SB 202 has cleared the Senate Judiciary and Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committees and is now in the Senate Rules Committee.

Florida is 2nd state this year to try and repeal judge’s authority to ban guns from their own courtrooms

I mentioned earlier this week the effort in Arkansas to repeal that state’s statute that allows judges to” “determin[e] who will carry a concealed weapon into his or her courtroom.” Now Florida’s House is considering a similar measure.

Current law in Florida provides a license to carry a concealed weapon or firearm doesn’t allow for either courthouse (F.S. 790.06(12)(a)(4)) or courtroom (F.S. 790.06(12)(a)(5)) carry. It is essentially identical to Arkansas’ law.

F.S. 790.06(12)(a)(5) in particular specifies a judge “determin[e] who will carry a concealed weapon in his or her courtroom.”

HB 803 as filed repeals all location-specific bans on concealed carry found in F.S. 790.06, including the restrictions on courthouse/courtroom carry and the judge’s authority in this area.

HB 803 has been filed in the House Judiciary Committee.

Florida: bill prohibits using public records act to obtain judges’ business email addresses for 5 years

Like most states, Florida law does not allow for personal information related to judges to be publicly released under the state’s open records act. Specifically exempted are the home addresses, dates of birth, and telephone numbers of current or former judges. Now a bill would make a judge’s business e-mail addresses not subject to release.

SB 1736 amends the general exemptions from inspection or copying of public records statute to include the business e-mail addresses of current judges/justices of the state’s 4 courts (supreme, district court of appeal, circuit, and county). The provision would last only 5 years and be automatically repealed unless re-enacted by October 2, 2022.

SB 1736 has been filed but not yet assigned to a committee.

 

Florida: Senate version of “Judicial Accountability” bill would no longer force judges off of criminal cases if racial disparity in sentencing found

The Florida Senate’s Criminal Justice committee earlier today held a hearing on SB 382 which would require the legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) collect data on all criminal sentences handed down over the previous 5 calendar years to determine whether or not judges were issuing disparate sentences based on race or other demographic criteria. The reports would have to be posted online.

The committee-approved version of the bill makes two changes via amendment.

  1. Judges who are found to have issued disparate sentences would not be forced to automatically recuse/disqualify in cases involving a member of a particular demographic group.
  2. The demographic data collect would be different.
Original Amended
Age Date of Birth
Sex Sex
Race Race and ethnicity
Income Court-appointed or private counsel
Prior criminal history Scoresheet

Scoresheet here appears to refer to this scoresheet used to assist in determining sentences.

During the hearing (video here starting at 43:00) the author indicated this was not a bill to attack judges but only to collect data. Others voiced concerns that, given the high percentage of plea bargains (98% in at least one area in the state), that the data would not reflect the judge’s sentencing but the plea agreements reached between the prosecutors and defendants.

As a result of these concerns, the possibility of coming up with some form of compromise bill was brought up. In the end, SB 382 was postponed in the committee.

Florida: hearing on “Judicial Accountability” bill, would force judges off of criminal cases if racial disparity in sentencing found

A hearing has been set for next week before the Florida Senate’s Criminal Justice committee on a bill that could force judges to recuse if they are found to be handing down disproportionate sentences to members of minority groups.

Under SB 382 as discussed here the legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) would be required to collect data on all criminal sentences handed down over the previous 5 calendar years. Data would include:

(a) The judge who presided over each trial.
(b) The judge who presided over the sentencing phase.
(c) The circuit in which, and the specific location of the court at which, each case was heard.
(d) Each offense for which the defendant was convicted or entered a plea of nolo contendere.
(e) The range of possible sentences for each offense.
(f) The sentence imposed for each offense, including, but not limited to, any fines or jail, prison, probation, or other imposed terms.
(g) Demographic information about the defendant, including, but not limited to:

1. Age.
2. Sex.
3. Race.
4. Income.
5. Prior criminal history.

If OPPAGA’s analysis found evidence of disparity in sentencing by a judge with regard to any demographic group, the judge would be disqualified from any case involving a member of that demographic group, pursuant to s. 38.10.

Additionally, OPPAGA’s judge-by-judge reports would be delivered to the individual judge as well as the Governor, Chief Justice, and Legislative leaders.

Florida: Senate now has its own constitutional amendment to allow legislature to override “activist judges” by 2/3rds vote

I mentioned last month the proposal in the Florida House that would allow the legislature to override state court decisions by a 2/3rds vote. Now the Senate has its own version.

HJR 121 and the identical SJR 1098 filed earlier this week provide

Any law, resolution, or other legislative act declared void by the supreme court, district court of appeal, circuit court, or county court of this state may be deemed active and operational, notwithstanding the court’s ruling, if agreed to by the legislature pursuant to a resolution adopted by a two-thirds vote of each house within five years after the date that the ruling becomes final. Such resolution is exempt from section 8 of this article and shall take effect immediately upon passage.

The House proponent has posted on own website that the rationale for the proposal, and a similar one urging Congress to enact a federal 2/3rds override plan, is to “curtail the tendency of activist judges to manipulate the law to suit their political views and agendas.”

SJR 1098 has been filed but not yet assigned to a committee.

Florida: bills targeting appellate courts clear House Judiciary Committee, heading to full House for vote

Two bills targeting Florida’s appellate courts have cleared the House Judiciary Committee and are now heading for a vote of the full House.

HJR 1, which was approved 11-8 and discussed here, limits appellate judges (Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal) to 12 consecutive years in office and prohibits them from being reappointed for 1 year after leaving office. Proponents complained the state’s retention election system was “broken” because no appellate judge had ever lost a race and that therefore term limits were required.

As previously noted, no state puts term limits on its appellate judges and only New Mexico does so in one limited-instance at the trial level (part-time Probate Court judges).

HB 301 approved 12-6 and discussed here requires the Florida Supreme Court to provide a “detailed explanation” to the governor and legislature when a case goes longer than 180 days from oral argument to decision. A similar law was enacted in Kansas in 2014 as a section 4 of HB 2446. That law set time limits of 120 days (trial courts) or 180 days (appellate court) for decisions. Section 4 of HB 2446 was struck down as an unconstitutional infringement on the separation of powers a year later (State v. Buser).