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Bush budget provides for lots of judges: would provide $1 million for Civil Legal Assistance Act.

All 66 new judges certified by the Supreme Court this year are in Gov. Jeb Bush's proposed 2006-07 budget, as are some staff increases for state attorneys and public defenders to accompany those new judges who are assigned to criminal courts.

Bush also proposed restoring $1 million to the Civil Legal Assistance Act. Last year, Bush vetoed a $5 million appropriation for that program, saying that amount was too fast a growth from the previous year's $500,000 budget.

But the governor offered no new money for other programs in the trial courts, and state attorneys and public defenders did not get the funds they wanted for raises for their mid-level staff. The state's Capital Collateral Regional Counsel offices also saw no budget increase in the spending plan, and Bush proposes a slight cut in the Guardian Ad Litem Program's budget.

Those figures, of course, are not final. The legislature will write the final budget and send it to the governor by early May, at the end of the 60-day Regular Session. The governor may, however, exercise line-item vetos, as he did last year in excising the Civil Legal Assistance appropriation.

"The governor did pick up all the judges that the Supreme Court certified," said State Courts Administrator Lisa Goodner. "That's two district court of appeal judges, 40 circuit judges, and 24 county judges."

Half of those would be filled as of September 1 and the remainder by December 1, she added.

The proposed budget "also addressed several of the building maintenance and security issues for the Supreme Court and for the five DCAs," Goodner added. "He did pick up three court education positions for the Office of the State Courts Administrator for the purpose of expanding our current court education system."

The budget also calls for three more information technology positions to support the judicial inquiry system, which provides information to judges about the defendants appearing before them. Improving that system, Goodner noted, was part of the Jessica Lunsford Act passed by the legislature last year that aims to crack down on child sexual abusers.

At the trial court level, other than the new judges and their direct support staff, Bush included little of what was recommended by the courts, including no increase in clerks for circuit court judges. The budget, Goodner said, did include $500,000 for maintenance and lease agreements for equipment that was transferred to the state from counties as part of the Revision 7 amendment approved by voters in 1998. That amendment mandated that the state pick up a larger share of funding of the trial courts by July 1, 2004.

"We obviously would like to see the governor acknowledge the worthiness of some of these requests," Goodner said of the unfunded items, but noted the court's recommendations have received a good reception from the legislature.

"We presented our budget to the Senate Justice Appropriations Committee in January and [Chair] Sen. [Victor] Crist, [R-St. Petersburg], was very favorable about addressing the needs of the courts and made public statements that he wanted to address the needs of the court this year."

Court officials have also been meeting with members of the House Judiciary Appropriations Committee and were scheduled to make their formal presentation to that panel as this News went to press.

Nineteenth Circuit State Attorney Bruce Colton, president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said prosecutors are appreciative that Bush's budget recognized that they need more staff to accommodate the expected new criminal judges but disappointed that salary concerns weren't addressed. Rick Parker, Eighth Circuit public defender and appropriations chair of the Florida Public Defender Association, echoed those comments.

"We are happy that the governor recognizes that when the legislature provides for new judges, it affects the entire system," Colton said. "He did propose additional prosecutors and public defenders for any new judges who are assigned to criminal courts. It's been a struggle in the past to get adequate staffing when they create judges."

Not included in the governor's budget is what prosecutors and public defenders call "phase two" funding, a follow-up to the effort a few years ago that raised the starting salaries for new prosecutors and PDs. Phase two was to improve salaries for those attorneys after they had been on the job for a few years.

"The student loans come due and they come in and tell us, 'We can't afford to work for you anymore,'" Colton said.

"We never get as much as we want or as much as we need, but we ask for it every year and our goal is to make the legislature aware that as long as we are passing tougher and tougher sentencing statutes ... all of these things cause more work for us," he added. "When you tell people you're probably going to go to prison if you're convicted, that causes more trials.

"We need experienced people who can command decent salaries to man these positions.... We're never going to adequately compete with the private sector in the more affluent areas," Colton said. "We would be happy if we could compete with other public agencies who are stealing lawyers from us."

Parker said public defenders will be getting $1.6 million phased in with the new judges to help with the increased workload. Annualized, that would be $2.5 million, he said.

That will enable the public defenders to hire 50 to 60 new staff, but the problem is with 55 new trial judges added last year and 64 this year, about half of those are expected to wind up presiding over criminal courts, and the PDs need three attorneys per judge. That's not counting additional support staff that will be required, he said.

Put another way, he said, if the 64 new trial judges are approved, the trial bench will have grown by 13 percent over a two-year period, while public defenders' budgets will have been given a 1.4 percent increase to deal with it. But getting any money is an improvement over many years where no workload funds were put in the budget.

"We very much appreciate the recognition by the governor that there is a workload impact on pubic defenders by the creation of new judgeships," Parker said.

Like prosecutors, public defenders also have a problem retaining experienced lawyers who leave for more lucrative jobs

Overall, Parker said public defenders figured they needed an additional $15 million to address salary and workload issues--a message he'll be taking to the legislature.

"What I'm saying to the legislature is for every newly created criminal judge, we need at least three lawyers," Parker said, plus 1.5 secretarial positions to assist those lawyers.

The small increases given to public defenders and prosecutors, though, are better than the recommendations for the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, for whom Bush recommended a minor budget increase, and the Guardian ad Litem Program, for which Bush recommended a budget reduction.

Bush proposed cutting $1 million from temporary, or OPS, workers for the agencies, plus funds for a special program in Miami. Offset by some small increases in other part of the program, the net loss would be $888,314 for a total of just over $26 million.

Program Director Angela Orkin is asking for an annualized additional $22 million to provide representation for the 40 percent of children in state care who still do not have independent counsel. (See story in the February 15 News.)

The governor proposed that the southern and middle district CCRCs remain funded with a total of $7.5 million, an increase of about $30,000 from the prior year, with a total of 69 positions.

Cases in the northern region are handled by private contract attorneys, and $800,000 is budgeted for their work.

Governor's Budget, at a Glance ...

Court system for 2005-06:$430.2 million and 4,158.5 positions.

Court system for 2006-07:$441.8 million and 4,329.5 positions.

Public Defenders 2005-06 (including appellate): $188,8 million, 2.886.75 positions.

Public Defenders 2006-07:$188.2 million, 2,890.75 positions.

State Attorneys 2005-06:$357.4 million, 5.873.25 positions.

State Attorneys 2006-07:$360.9 million, 5,926.25 positions.

Combined workload adjustment for State Attorneys and Public Defenders for 2006-07:$5 million, 139.5 positions.

Guardian ad Litem 2005-06:$26.9 million, 418 positions.

Guardian ad Litem 2006-07:$26 million. 418 positions.

Capital Collateral Regional Counsels: 2005-06:$7.4 million, 69 positions.

Capital Collateral Regional Counsels: 2006-07:$7.5 million, 69 positions.

Justice Administrative Commission * 2005-06:$109.3 million, 177.5 positions.

Justice Administrative Commission 2006-07:$111 million, 262 positions.

* The Justice Administrative Commission provides support and administrative services for state attorneys, public defenders, the CCRCs, and guardians ad litem. Some of their budget items are included in the JAC budget. For example, the $5 million workload increase for public defenders and state attorneys is in the JAC budget, not the individual state attorney and public defender proposed budgets.

Source: Governor's Proposed 2006-07 Budget.
Who Works Where

Florida Lawyers by
Occupation/Classification

Sole Practitioner 25%
Partner/Shareholder 18%
Associate 17%
Government Attorney 15%
Managing Partner 8%
Pract. with 1+ Assoc. 6%
Other 6%
Corp. Counsel 5%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Source: The Florida Bar's 2005
Membership Opinion Survey
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Author:Blankenship, Gary
Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:1542
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