Florida's crime rate may be falling, but the state Supreme Court on Thursday said 63 more trial court judges still are needed, due largely to high workloads from budget cuts and a glut of mortgage foreclosure cases.
The justices made similar requests to the Legislature in each of the past six years, but lawmakers have authorized no additional judgeships.
This time the justices are asking for 47 county judges, whose duties include misdemeanor and traffic cases, and 16 circuit judges, who handle felony cases as well as foreclosures and large lawsuits. The high court is not seeking more judgeships for the five district courts of appeal.
The justices acknowledged in an unsigned opinion that state revenues are gradually improving but continue to lag and that the crime rate has fallen, reducing the number of felony, domestic relations and juvenile cases.
But they also noted that probate and civil cases are up slightly and that Florida remains a national leader in foreclosure cases.
"Due to the severity and protracted nature of the crisis, our trial courts continue to struggle with heavy pending caseloads and the slow resurgence of foreclosure filings," the justices wrote.
They added that the foreclosure situation is having a ripple effect throughout the court system and that judges take on extra duties formerly handled by staffers whose jobs have been eliminated due to budget cuts.
The request for additional county judges includes 11 for Miami-Dade, six for Broward, five each for Duval and Palm Beach, four for Hillsborough, three for Orange, two each for Volusia and Lee, and one each for Citrus, Lake, Marion, Flagler, Osceola, Manatee, Sarasota, Seminole and St. Lucie.
The high court is asking for three circuit judges each in the 1st Circuit, which covers the western Panhandle, and the 5th, which encompasses Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.
The other circuit court requests are two judges each in the 7th, which covers Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties, and the 20th in southwest Florida. They're also requesting one each for the Jacksonville-based 4th; the Orlando-based 9th; the West Palm Beach-based 15th; the 6th, encompassing Pinellas and Pasco counties; the 14th, covering the central Panhandle; and the 19th, including Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.