Consolidation vs. Coordination
Coordination of Case Files
If one judge is going to handle all of one family’s related cases, should those cases be consolidated in one court file with one case number or should they be “bundled” in their separate files with separate case numbers?
Cases should not be consolidated into one court file. The independent integrity of each file should be maintained. It is the coordination of these related proceedings that is paramount. The primary means of accomplishing this coordination currently is through local administrative orders pertaining to family court cases, and by assigning all of a family’s related cases to one judge whenever possible. It is also recommended that there be a designation on the face of each file so the clerk can easily identify related cases. An order linking or transferring cases also helps ensure coordination.
Filing Orders in Related Cases
Will single orders be filed for all cases or will separate orders be filed with copies placed in all open and closed related case files?
In most cases, a single order that addresses and coordinates all of the related cases can be entered. The order should include the case numbers of all affected cases and a copy should be placed in each file. Copies of the order should go to the attorneys involved in all coordinated cases.
Separate orders are sometimes required when coordinating certain criminal, domestic violence, and dependency matters.
Transferring Related Cases
What legal barriers exist for transferring diverse cases to a single judge and how can a family court ensure it operates within those parameters?
So long as the judge has jurisdiction to hear the types of cases involved, there is no legal barrier to transferring or assigning a family’s related cases to a single judge. Florida rules already offer ways to transfer and assign cases to a single judge. However, developing a local administrative order which details how related cases will be assigned and transferred will help to ensure a uniform policy. Rather than legal barriers, the most prevalent barrier to implementing a family court may be a lack of willingness to change from familiar practices and adapt to a new coordinated system.
Confidentiality in Domestic Violence Cases
If a petitioner for a domestic violence injunction requests that his or her address be kept confidential, must anything be done in the other related case files?
Yes. This information is exempt from the public records provisions of §119.07(1), Florida Statutes, and §24(a), Article I of the State Constitution. Once the request is made to keep the address confidential, it should remain confidential regardless of the type of file it is in. However, as a practical matter, this will take some diligence on the part of the petitioner in alerting the court and clerk of the confidential address and not disclosing the address on his or her own in other court documents. Petitioners should use Family Law Form 12.980(h), Request for Confidential Filing of Address.
Family court personnel should work with clerk of court staff and the civil process personnel of the sheriff’s office to develop a method to ensure that the address is truly confidential. A common way in which confidential addresses are inadvertently revealed in court files occurs when the sheriff’s office files the return service.