April 15, 2002 Regular News JQC records bill fails, new judges still in the works JQC records bill fails, new judges still in the works The 2002 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature ended without any new judges being approved, but there’s a good chance that will change in the expected upcoming special budget session.And a proposed constitutional amendment to open records of the Judicial Qualifications Commission likewise died in the closing days after passing the House but failing to be considered in the Senate.Several other bills affecting the profession and the court system had varying fates in the always-hectic final days of the session.The last version of the certification legislation, HB 1927, cleared the Senate by a 39-0 vote on March 21. It called for one new circuit judgeship in each of the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, 10th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 17th, 18th, and 20th circuits. It also called for the new judges to be elected this fall.The House version, which had passed a few days earlier, omitted the new judges in the Eighth, 13th, and 18th circuits and had the governor appoint the new judges to take office on March 1, 2003. It had passed the House 113-0 on March 19. The lower chamber never took up the revamped Senate version when it returned.The Senate’s original certification bill called for 10 new circuit judges, while the House’s initial version called for two new district court of appeal judges. Both were far less than Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Wells requested in the annual certification opinion: 34 new circuit judges, 13 new county judges, and two DCA judges.Sen. Locke Burt, R-Ormond Beach, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the sticking issue was whether the new judges would be elected or appointed, with the Senate favoring election and the lower chamber wanting Gov. Jeb Bush to fill the new posts.“We had agreed on a number of judges, we had decided that they all be circuit judges, and we had decided they would start January 7, and the money is in the budget,” Burt said. “What we hadn’t resolved was elected versus appointed.”Since the money is in the budget, he expects that matter to be resolved in the special budget session — anticipated to be called in early May — although he added there is the possibility of a deadlock that results in no new judges.If that happens, it would be the second time in the past three sessions that no new judges have been approved, although in the 2000 session, it was due to a legislative oversight. Last year, lawmakers approved 26 of the 44 new judgeships requested by the court.Chief Justice Wells expressed optimism: “We are hopeful that the funding of at least some new judgeships will be part of the budget adopted in the special session which adopts next year’s budget,” he said.The proposed constitutional amendment to make all JQC proceedings and records open upon a finding of no probable cause passed the House on March 19 by a 79-33 vote. But the Senate sent the measure to its Judiciary Committee and allowed it to die there. An identical Senate resolution had already cleared the Judiciary Committee, but died in the Rules and Calendar Committee.The JQC had strongly opposed the measure — which was initially proposed by House Judicial Oversight Chair Larry Crow — arguing it would remove anonymity from those who file complaints and therefore hurt the process.Crow contended the process needs to be opened up, especially in light of the recent judicial impeachment proceedings in the House, and pointed out that “the public is thirsting for opening up these records.”But Burt said there was little enthusiasm for the measure in the upper chamber. “It got started in the system late and it had a number of committee references,” he said. “And it got caught in the system.”Even if it had made it to the Senate floor, Burt said there was considerable skepticism among senators, and it might have failed to get the 60 percent needed to pass a constitutional amendment.Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Tamarac, said that senators were also interested in sticking to an informal deal that last year gave the House a bill allowing the governor to appoint all the members to the judicial nominating commissions in exchange for no major changes to the court system this year.“A couple of senators felt very strongly it would stifle reporting of bad judges and went to leadership and asked them not to allow it to come up,” he said. What Passed: • The legislature passed and sent to the governor SB 1946, which sets out that a plaintiff must show a defendant failed to exercise reasonable care in maintaining a business premises in a slip-and-fall case. Lawmakers argued that the Supreme Court, in Owens v. Publix Supermarket, Inc. , 802 So. 2d 315 (Fla. 2001), had shifted too much of the burden of proof to defendants in such cases. The bill, supported by most retailers as well as the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, passed the Senate 35-0 and the House 118-0.• The legislature passed, unanimously in both chambers, HB 585, the Florida Uniform Principal and Income Act. It regulates several items relating to trusts, including judicial oversight and a trustee’s power to adjust between principal and income. The Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section supported the bill.• The legislature passed, unanimously in both chambers, SB 720 to fix glitches in trust and probate laws, including setting time limits for creditors to file claims and setting notice requirements for certain trusts. The bill was supported by RPPTL and the Florida Bankers Association.• Effective July 1, F.S. §57.105 governing sanctions on parties filing frivolous claims in civil suits will conform to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, thanks to SB 528 and HB 487. In short, the federal rule gives opposing parties 21 days to withdraw or correct a frivolous claim before a motion for sanctions can be filed with the court.• Both chambers passed unanimously a bill to require a court conducting arraignment, sentencing, or a case management hearing to advise a crime victim of certain statutory and constitutional rights. HB 1209 by Reps. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Mitch Needelman, R-Melbourne, and SB 1974 by Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, will take effect July 1. A similar bill, SB 2066, would have required clerks of court to provide information to crime victims about enforcing a civil judgment or lien against the defendant. That bill died in the Judiciary Committee.• SB 434 and HB 1391 passed unanimously through both chambers. The engrossed bill would require the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to deliver jury lists to the clerks of circuit court on a quarterly basis. Current law requires the DHSMV to provide those lists only once per year. The new law becomes effective October 1.• SB 288 by Sen. Campbell intended to cut down on the delays of placing children in the state’s care up for adoption or back with their families passed the Senate 34-0 on March 14 and cleared the House 116-0 on March 22.• HB 787 (identical to SB 944), supported by the Business Law Section as a way to fix glitches in the limited liability corporation laws, passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate.• SB 1568 by Sen. Burt passed both the House and Senate unanimously. When the bill becomes effective July 1, all attorneys listed on the statewide registry of attorneys in private practice who are available to represent people in postconviction capital collateral proceedings must complete at least 10 hours of continuing legal education per year devoted specifically to the defense of capital cases.• passing HB 1679, the legislature imposed a moratorium on clerks of court placing certain public judicial records on the Internet and agreed to create the Study Committee on Public Records. Groups such as the Judicial Management Council and the Supreme Court Workgroup on Public Records have been tasked with investigating different aspects of public court records — looking at everything from electronic access to what constitutes a court record — and now the legislature has authorized and funded a statewide, multi-disciplinary group. The bill amends F.S. §28.2221, passed during the 2000 session, which required every clerk of court to provide for electronic retrieval of court documents by January 1, 2006. • SB 1978, revamping F.S. §105.031 to require an earlier qualifying period for candidates for judicial office, died in committee, but the bill language was engrossed in SB 618, which subsequently passed both chambers. The earlier qualifying period in the new bill mimics the qualifying period for federal candidates. What Didn’t Pass: • HB 595 and SB 732, both of which would have required courts to impose an additional $35 court fee on people pleading no contest or guilty to charges of domestic violence, died in the Committee on Fiscal Policy and Resources and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, respectively. The money collected would have been used to help fund legal services for domestic violence victims.• The House passed, but the Senate failed to take up, HB 307, which would have helped assistant state attorneys and public defenders repay law school loans to help attract new attorneys to those public service jobs. The measure passed in the House 113-0 on March 19 and was sent to the Senate, which referred it to the Judiciary Committee and never took it up. A similar Senate bill, SB 1138, passed the Senate Judiciary and Governmental Oversight and Productivity committees, but died in an appropriations subcommittee.•A proposal to increase the number of people who can act as “retired judges” died on calendar in both chambers. HB 17, sponsored by Rep. Sally Heyman, D-North Miami Beach, and SB 424 by Sen. Daryl Jones, D-Miami, would have allowed judges or justices defeated in a popular or merit retention election to serve as retired judges, provided they had served at least 10 years on the bench and met other provisions established by the Supreme Court.• Rep. Ken Sorensen’s, R-Tavernier, plan to require each district court of appeal to be made up of at least one judge from each represented judicial circuit, HB 205, died on calendar. The Senate version, SB 1800, sponsored by Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, stalled out between the chambers.• Some of the most sweeping changes proposed this year were found in joint resolutions by Sen. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg, (SJR 1528) and Rep. Bruce Kyle, R-Ft. Myers, (HJR 1), which would have revamped Article V of the Constitution regarding the judiciary. Among the changes proposed were limitations on habeas corpus and specifying that courts could only act when there was an actual dispute, which critics said would eliminate declaratory judgments. The amendments would also have allowed the legislature to designate any of the five district courts of appeal as the final arbiter in a specific area of law, such as death penalty cases or administrative law appeals. Kyle’s bill was sent to the Judicial Oversight Committee, but never heard. Cowin’s bill was heard in the Judiciary Committee, but bogged down there and was eventually amended completely to become the Senate version of the bill to open up JQC records.• At one point during the session, SJR 1666, sponsored by Sens. Ron Silver, D-North Miami, and Tom Rossin, D-Royal Palm Beach, would have imposed an eight-year term limit on Florida Supreme Court justices. But, after combining the bill with SB 1118, the judicial provision was removed. The final bill would have raised the limit from eight to 12 years on Florida representatives, senators, and Cabinet members, but died in messages.• Rep. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, introduced HB 503, and Sen. Campbell introduced its counterpart, SB 1266, which would have changed the jurisdiction of Florida’s trial courts. The bills would have shifted certain felonies, including certain traffic and bad check offenses, to county court. HB 503 died in the Committee on Criminal Justice Appropriations, and SB 1266 in the Judiciary Committee.• Both House and Senate legislation to spread the Unified Family Court model across the state died in committees — the Council for Smarter Government and Fiscal Responsibility Council, respectively. HB 1455, sponsored by Reps. Ken Gottlieb, D-Miramar, and Cindy Lerner, D-Miami, and SB 1226 would have created the Family Code and provided for the reorganization of certain courts to mimic the Unified Family Court. The pilot program recommended in the Supreme Court’s Model Family Court plan has already been implemented in the Sixth Circuit.• Rep. Fred Brummer’s, R-Apopka, plan to make Judicial Nominating Commission proceedings public, HJR 1465, died in the Committee on Judicial Oversight. The bill did not have a Senate companion.• Another bill by Brummer, HJR 1337, would have replaced the Bar and the Supreme Court with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation as the entity responsible for regulating lawyers. The bill died in the Committee on Business Regulation.• Two bills hotly contested by environmental groups — HB 257 and SB 280 — will not make it to the governor’s desk. The House version passed through the full House with a 94-24 vote, but the bill died when it was referred to several Senate committees in the last days of the session. The Senate companion bill died in the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and never reached the full chamber. The bills would have revised the requirements for pleadings, motions, and other papers filed under the Administrative Procedures Act — a provision which environmental groups said would limit public access to the system.• HB 1191 by Rep. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, would have repealed F.S. §923.03 regarding indictments. The bill died in the Committee on Crime Prevention, Corrections & Safety.• SB 300, which eliminated statute of limitations for sex crimes where DNA evidence is available, passed the Senate on March 6, but died in the House. A similar bill, HB 1597, passed the House on second reading but died on the calendar without being taken up for third reading and final passage. A similar bill by Rep. Holly Benson. R-Pensacola, (HB 655) would have removed the time limitations for any case in which the perpetrator is identified by DNA evidence collected at the crime scene. That bill died in Judicial Oversight.• Two bills (HB 1615 and SB 1212) attempted to set age boundaries on who could be sentenced to death, but neither bill passed both chambers. Both bills provided that only criminals who were 18 years old or older at the time they committed the crime could be sentenced to death. The Senate version passed its chamber unanimously, then was referred to a House committee where it later died. The House version died in Criminal Justice Appropriations.• SB 2160 would have amended the Florida Evidence Code to provide for disclosure of certain information that is otherwise inadmissible and eliminated the need to renew certain objections to preserve appellate rights, but died in the Judiciary Committee.• Four connected bills (two bills and two linked trust fund allotments) would have created and funded provisions for certain nonviolent drug offenders to be referred to drug treatment or drug-offender probation. The House bills were removed prior to consideration, and the Senate bills died in committee.• An attempt by Sen. Anna Cowin to correct the judicial funding shortfall for this fiscal year was thwarted when SB 2080 died between chambers. The bill would have increased the amount of certain civil penalties to be paid into the County Article V Trust Fund and decreased the amount paid into the General Revenue Fund. It passed the Senate unanimously but never reached the House floor. To check the latest status of a bill, visit Online Sunshine, the Florida Legislature’s Web site, at http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Welcome/index.cfm . Under “Session,” click on “Bills and Related Documents,” then use the pull down menus to find a complete list of regular session bills.