Sunset falls over the Florida Supreme Court building
Sunset falls over the Florida Supreme Court building (Phil Sears)

The Florida Supreme Court has certified the need for 49 new judges statewide, including 22 in South Florida.

As part of its constitutional obligation to review the need for new judges annually, the court Thursday made its recommendation to the Florida Legislature. The Legislature must decide whether to fund the additional judges but hasn’t approved any since 2007.

The court found the need for two new judges on the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland and one on the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

The request for 46 new trial court judges statewide includes 11 in Miami-Dade County Court, six in Broward County Court and five in Palm Beach County Court. The justices did not call for any new circuit judges in South Florida.

The justices cited an increase in pro se litigants, red-light camera cases and a loss of judicial support staff as contributing factors to the need for more judges.

“Our judges continue to absorb the work previously performed by case managers, law clerks, magistrates, and other supplemental support staff lost in the budget reductions of recent years,” the opinion said. “The consensus among chief judges is that the loss of support staff translates into slower case processing times, crowded dockets and long waits to access judicial calendars.”

The continued foreclosure crisis “continues to impact disposition times and rates,” but the court noted the Legislature has provided temporary funding this year and next year for senior judges and magistrates to address case backlogs.

“Many of our chief judges lament the long waits associated with obtaining hearing times,” the justices wrote in the unanimous, unsigned opinion. “In some circuits, dockets are so full that it takes several weeks to schedule a hearing. This observation is of particular concern as it strikes at the essence of access to the courts as well as the public trust and confidence in our courts.”

In making its recommendation for the Second District, the justices noted the district has the highest number of pending cases per judge. The court also noted the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach is the only district court in the state that has experienced a net increase in case filings from 2008 to 2013.