Byline: CARLY ROTHMAN
No new appellate, circuit or county judges had been authorized or funded by the Florida Legislature since 2002, although the state Supreme Court has certified the need for new judges each year.
But when the Supreme Court called for 110 new judges this year, the Legislature passed a bill authorizing 55 new judges and 65 staff positions including judicial assistants and law clerks.
In Northeast Florida, only Jacksonville is getting a new county judge. The two circuits that include Duval, Baker, Clay and Nassau counties each will get one new judge, and the circuit that covers Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties will get two new judges.
About $8.5 million was appropriated to support the new positions.
The new judges, all normally elected positions, will be appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, with about half taking office Nov. 1 and the rest beginning Jan. 2. The positions will go through the normal election process in 2008.
Judicial nominating commissions in each circuit are in the process of selecting candidates to recommend to the governor for judgeships at both the county and circuit levels.
Each commission has nine members. As of 2001, all nine are appointed by the governor, although four are nominated by The Florida Bar and at least two of the remaining five must be lawyers.
On Friday, the 4th Circuit judicial nominating commission for Clay, Duval and Nassau counties will conduct interviews with the 19 candidates who have submitted applications for the new positions. From these it will select from three to six candidates to pass on to the governor.
Sen. Victor Crist, bill sponsor and Justice Appropriations Committee chairman, said the Senate has a "gentlemen's agreement" to fund and authorize the remaining 55 judges next year, but those judges would be elected.
"Right now we're running tight on time," he said. "We went ahead and got 55 judges on line quickly by doing gubernatorial appointments."
The question of whether judges should be appointed or elected is a longstanding point of contention.
"Odd enough, whichever political party is in office at the time wants appointed judges and whichever is not in office wants elected judges," said Crist, R-Tampa.
But state Sen. Rod Smith, D-Gainesville, said, "I didn't notice a great deal of partisanship in this process at all."
He said the Senate's main concern was getting judges in office quickly. …