The elements of the State Courts System codified in section 29.001, Florida Statutes, should be adequately funded by the State to ensure the guarantee of court access by Florida’s citizens.
The court system has developed a statement of need that defines what is reasonable and necessary to fund the elements of the court system and ensure adequate and equitable funding for all courts in every part of the state. Adequate and equitable funding has been compromised by the recent budget reductions. Funding should be restored through a combination of general revenue and trust funds.
For the purpose of analysis, resources that fund Florida’s courts can be considered as going into one of four distinct categories:
- Adjudication – resources that directly contribute to processing cases through the court system;
- Due process – resources that directly protect the fundamental constitutional and legal rights of court litigants;
- Governance – resources that perform critical oversight, direction, work processes, logistics, and operations management for the branch; and
- Infrastructure – resources that provide for technology, access to legal resources, and safe and clean environments for staff and the public as they conduct court business.
But in the real world, it takes an interdependent combination of these four categories for Florida’s court system to manage its workload.
Without sufficient funding in each of these four areas, Florida’s state court system cannot operate efficiently and effectively. The common purpose linking all of these elements is the ability to process cases through the court system expeditiously without compromising quality and shortchanging the public good. Cases must have a presiding judicial officer with the ability to thoroughly research the law and provide a ruling. Litigants must have their rights protected throughout the court process. All stakeholders in the court process must be able to carry out case activities in secure facilities. Officers in the court system must have a management structure that ensures that payroll is processed, contracts are administered, and training is provided. Thus, without any one of these elements, the court process falters.
When funds are not there for staff who provide adjudication and administrative support, their tasks are left for judges to handle. The cost associated with using judges to cover this workload is significantly higher than the expense of the essential complement of non-judge resources. When their adjudication and administrative support is eliminated, judges are diverted away from the most difficult adjudicative functions – and that means cases take longer and access to the court is diminished, thereby potentially placing the due process rights of litigants in jeopardy and compromising public safety.