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Villalobos says standardization is key Villalobos says standardization is key Senior EditorNothing is final, but plans are starting to shape up for how the state will assume more funding of the state court system, in accordance with a 1998 constitutional amendment.Among the early indications: Counties shouldn’t look for any big savings; court users may find filing fees substantially hiked; large verdict civil cases and large probate cases may have a small surcharge imposed for the extra court resources they require; some procedures and operations would be standardized; and counties may get new resources to raise money to pay for their part of the court system.Against that background of shifting court finances, which must be accomplished by July 1, 2004, the legislature is facing a bleaker picture for the 2003-04 budget.State attorneys and public defenders, who haven’t had any new employees for three years, are warning they are on the verge of breaking down. Critical court functions may be ended if cuts proposed by Gov. Jeb Bush are approved. And a controversial proposal to close state offices that represent death row inmates has attracted a barrage of criticism, including claims it will actually wind up costing more. (See story on page 7 of this News. )What does all this mean for Florida’s legal system?“I think we are in a period of time where we are going to remake the way the judicial system is run statewide,” said Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, who, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will have a major role in those changes.“We have no goal of cutting judges,” said Sen. Rod Smith, D-Gainesville, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Article V Implementation and Judiciary. “We are going to try to cut duplication.”The two gave interviews to the Bar News as legislative budget committees began a series of hearings on judicial branch funding. Their two committees will be working together on implementing the constitutionally required funding transfer, with the Judiciary Committee setting definitions and procedures and Smith’s appropriations subcommittee working on the financial details.This year’s Regular Session begins March 4.Villalobos said one priority will be to standardize court operations. That will include a uniform system, with minimum qualifications, for conflict defense counsel and appointed counsel in dependency cases. Nor would a conflict counsel, he said, be able to send an associate who doesn’t meet the minimum qualifications to any significant hearing or proceeding in the case.He also wants to set common standards for clerk operations around the state, which he said would make oversight easier and also make records easier to find and research for lawyers and other court system users.“We have 67 clerks doing it different ways in 20 circuits,” Villalobos said.The standardization will also include communication and computer technology so information can be shared anywhere, he said, and “If a person is arraigned in Dade County, you need to be able to check for outstanding warrants anywhere in the state.”Also to be revamped are filing fees. Villalobos said in the current system, the clerks and counties set initial fees, and the state tacks on charges at the end of the line to help various programs. State law caps the maximum fee at $200, plus an additional $10 for the guardian ad litem program.Villalobos said he hopes the state will be in the front of the line, taking from the initial filing fee what it needs to help pay for the trial courts. But he also expects the maximum fee, which was set by state law in 1987, to be raised to ensure that clerks and counties have enough money to meet their needs.Smith agrees higher filing fees are probably inevitable.“Filing fees have to be allowed to float upward so the court system at least on the civil side pays for itself,” he said.The state will also be looking at fines, forfeitures, and other costs that are imposed in the court system and how those are collected.Smith also said he wants to look at a surcharge on civil cases involving a large judgment, or larger estate cases that required a lot of court time. His initial idea is to impose a surcharge of one-tenth of 1 percent on such cases if the verdict or estate is more than $100,000, with a maximum payment of $5,000.“The idea here is not to tax, but to recognize the civil court system is self-sustaining,” Smith said. He added that in the current system, the filing fees are about the same for two major corporations filing a complex contract suit that takes a year of court time to prepare and then six weeks to try as for a couple filing a simple divorce that takes only a few minutes for a judge to handle.Both Smith and Villalobos said progress is being made on the transition, including figuring out a way to distribute and control money for conflict counsel and defining what will be paid for by the state and what will be left for the counties.Villalobos said he doesn’t see a big financial windfall for the counties, but what will change is counties getting more resources to meet their court-related responsibilities.“At the end of Article V, it should be a wash,” he said.One likely change is state attorneys and public defenders will stop handling cases involving violations of county or municipal ordinances. Villalobos said the state should not pay for local enforcement, which should be left up to county attorneys.The challenges of making the funding transition, as well as budgeting for the 2003-04 fiscal year were demonstrated in a series of legislative committee meetings last month.Brad Thomas, from Gov. Jeb Bush’s office, laid out before House and Senate committees the governor’s budget priorities for the court system. Those include a 5 percent cut for the Office of State Courts Administrator, cutting 34 judicial assistants for the district courts of appeal, cutting 0.5 percent of the state attorneys’ and public defenders’ budgets although no positions would be lost, transferring 8.5 positions from the state courts administrator as part of the shift of the guardian ad litem program, and cutting three positions from OSCA’s personnel office. Other plans include a 2 percent charge on bail bonds to raise $16 million for the guardian program, and giving sheriffs $1.3 million to pay costs associated with domestic violence injunctions.State Courts Administrator Robin Lubitz, testifying before both House and Senate committees, said OSCA doesn’t have 8.5 positions that support the GAL program. At most, he said, it’s 1.25 positions.He also warned that a 5 percent cut, or around $400,000, would cut not fat but bone and muscle from court operations. He noted that not counting for some one-time expenditures for technology and other items, the court budget has actually declined for the past two years.“The 5 percent cut would really require us to make significant reductions in technology support we provide in the field,” he said. He added it would also affect court certification and oversight programs, as well as require cuts in staffing to various Supreme Court committees.Lubitz said the governor’s office wanted to cut three positions from the eight-person personnel office and have the courts join the state’s privatized personnel services. But he said with the upcoming funding shift and the potential the court system will get hundreds of new employees now on the county payroll, it was better to wait on any such change.Representatives from public defenders and state attorneys said while a 0.5 percent cut might not sound like much, it comes after three years where no new positions have been authorized.“It would be absolutely unprecedented for us to go another year with no new positions, which is called for in this budget,” said Second Circuit Public Defender Nancy Daniels, president of the Florida Public Defenders Association.While the number of employees has remained unchanged, new judges have been approved which requires staffing; new specialty courts and programs have been created; and the Jimmy Ryce Act has been enacted, giving defenders additional responsibilities in the civil commitment of sexual offenders.“We’ve done all this without new personnel, and it is just killing us,” Daniels said. “We’ve experienced a three-year drought in funding, and we are severely dehydrated. Please give us some more money and some more positions this year.”“Amen!” said Buddy Jacobs, representing the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and speaking immediately after Daniels. “I’ve never said ‘Amen’ in 33 years speaking after the public defenders.”He agreed with Daniels that prosecutors and public defenders are handling more than twice the recommended caseloads and many times have to plea bargain cases because they don’t have time to try them. And many lawyers who would like to be career prosecutors can’t afford to because of the low pay.Smith told Jacobs that he was concerned proposed cuts in the Statewide Prosecutor’s Office of more than 50 percent would place an additional burden, particularly for white collar crimes, on the state attorneys.First DCA Judge Michael Allen spoke opposing cutting judicial assistants, which would require that two DCA judges share one assistant, rather than keeping one assistant per judge. He said the DCAs have been able to cope with rising caseloads with increased staff and technology, but cutting assistants would reverse that trend.“It is not a wise move, and it definitely slows down the decision-making process in the district courts,” he said.Lawmakers also questioned parts of the governor’s budget. Sen. J.D. Alexander, of the Senate appropriations subcommittee, told Thomas he was concerned the governor had not budgeted for any new judges.“One of the big issues for me is the length of time it takes to resolve issues,” he said. “Things are already taking a long time to get resolved. The cost of not resolving issues may be a whole lot more than what a judge costs. . . . “If you don’t have a solid justice system for the state, we don’t have much at all.”Smith asked Thomas about Bush switching parts of the public defenders’ and state attorneys’ budgets from recurring to nonrecurring revenue sources. Thomas replied that Bush believes it was better to review those budgets each year from scratch, which would be easier with nonrecurring sources of funding, but Smith expressed skepticism.“I think that looks better on a bumper sticker than it does in terms of the real world,” he said.Tallahassee attorney Fred Baggett, representing the Florida Association of Court Clerks, provided some numbers about clerks costs to the Senate Judiciary Committee.For the 1998-99 fiscal year, it cost clerks $354.2 million for their court-related activities, he said. The clerks took in $580 million in fees and other charges, of which they kept $118 million. Among the remainder, $248 million went to counties, $145 million went to the state, and most of the rest went to municipalities, he said.Villalobos asked Baggett if the clerks could handle a system where the state took its money up front from filing fees and then left clerks and county officials to add on what they needed for court operations. Baggett said the clerks were coming up with a variety of options and could deal with that, although he said it might significantly raise filing fees.“I don’t care what you add on to it after we get our share. You can add $600,” Villalobos replied. “My concern is in order to drive this train, I need to pay for the courts and I need to pay for the state attorneys and public defenders. Your guys are each elected and you have discretion. If you need more discretion, I need you to tell me where we need to change the statute.”Baggett also reported that the clerks are developing a system to measure performance and accountability. It is being tested in some counties now and should be ready to go statewide in 24 months, he said, adding, “If we’re going to be operating off our fees, we need a way to measure performance.”Legislative hearings continued as this News went to press. March 1, 2003 Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Regular News read more
“The reason why we want to take it to that level is to create a new record and create a new platform to allow the 2019 edition to herald what is going to happen in the next six years. We believe strongly that in another six years when we are marking the 10th anniversary, we should actually become a top class marathon, and that is our vision for this competition.“We believe that it is achievable. This is not necessarily about me; it is not even about the sponsors but about making Lagos to be on that top brand across the world and that is how cities are elevated to become global brand,” Governor Ambode said.He said arrangement had equally been firmed up to encourage more local participation, as well as more physically-challenged athletes, a development he said necessitated the increase in prize monies for the two categories.“We think obviously that we should pay more attention to our physically-challenged athletes this time around and also to embrace more of local participation. This time around, we would push more money to the local races and we would push more money to also our physically-challenged athletes to encourage more people to come in, while the main prize remain the same,” he said.Speaking further at the media briefing which was attended by Nigeria’s sports icons including Mary Onyali, Samson Siasia, Waidi Akanni, Seye Ogunlewe, among others, the Governor said the idea of the marathon was part of his administration’s initiatives to use sports, entertainment and hospitality to grow the economy and positively engage the bourgeoning youth population in the State.Besides, the Governor commended all the sponsors, media and all those who have contributed to the success of the marathon in the last three years, saying the development was a dream come true.Earlier in his welcome address, Chairman of Lagos State Sports Commission, Dr. Kweku Tandor said the Lagos City Marathon, was the third of its kind after Brighton and Bournemouth Marathon in the United Kingdom to earn the prestigious IAAF Bronze Label only after its second edition, which held on February 10, 2018.On his part, Managing Director of Access Bank, Mr. Herbert Wigwe said the commitment of the state government under the leadership of Governor Ambode has ensured that the Lagos Marathon had become an annual event on the international athletics map.He assured that Access Bank, the major sponsors of the Lagos Marathon would continue to give its full support to the event, adding that the 2019 edition will take the event a notch higher so as to receive an IAAF Silver Label for the marathon.Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterPrintPinterestEmailWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInTumblrPocketTelegram No fewer than 150,000 athletes both locally and internationally are expected to participate in the 4th edition of Access Bank Lagos City Marathon, Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode announced yesterday.Addressing a press conference at Lagos House in Alausa, Ikeja to officially announce commencement of preparations for the marathon which is billed to hold on February 2, 2019, Ambode said the target of the state government, was to use the forthcoming edition to take the tournament from the bronze label of International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) to silver, in partnership with the sponsors.According to him, “The whole idea is to turn the competition from bronze to silver level. In the last three editions, we had between 100,000 and 120,000 participants. This time around, we want to make sure that come February 2019, we would have not less than 150,000 participants. read more
The Munster junior champions face Bangor in their third and final Round Robin series match in Ard Gaoithe this afternoon.A win would give the Tipperary side a great chance of going through to a play-off against Sligo.Clonmel coach Denis Leamy says the players are determined to ensure their season lasts for a little longer.