Court sets out procedures for adding DCAs

first_img Court sets out procedures for adding DCAs April 1, 2006 Regular News Plan relies less on raw case numbers and more on performance Mark D. Killian Managing Editor The Supreme Court has adopted a new rule of judicial administration to be used in helping to determine the need to increase, decrease, or redefine appellate districts.The new Rule of Judicial Administration 2.036 relies less on raw caseload numbers for making changes to the DCAs in favor of an approach that concentrates on outcomes measured through performance.“It specifically is intended to ensure that our district courts of appeal, as the courts of last resort in the vast majority of appeals, continue to dispense justice in a timely and efficient manner that meets the needs of our people,” Chief Justice Barbara Pariente wrote for the unanimous court in accepting a recommendation from its Committee on District Court of Appeal Workload and Jurisdiction.The rule also contains cautionary language noting the realignment of appellate districts is “inherently disruptive” and that the addition of a sixth or seventh DCA also could have consequences, including increasing the number of conflicts in the law, likely resulting in an increase in the number of petitions for discretionary review in both certified conflict and express and direct conflict cases. The court also said the decision to create another appellate district should only be undertaken as a last resort “when it is clear that the current appellate courts are not functioning effectively and efficiently, and no other options are reasonably available, including the addition of judges or the creation of branch courthouses.”The court also directed its District Court of Appeal Workload and Jurisdiction Assessment Committee to begin immediately a review of the DCAs based on the new criteria and report back to the court by November 15.Florida’s five district courts of appeal, in raw numbers, have annually received a total of approximately 24,000 cases in recent years, according to the opinion, while the Supreme Court has received approximately 2,500 cases per year.Analysis of the caseloads and trend data led the workload and jurisdiction panel to conclude that many commonly held beliefs about factors that contribute to appellate caseloads — such as correlations to populations, numbers of attorneys, and trial court caseloads — are “overstated,” and that caseloads are also affected by changes in the law, such as those contributing to post-conviction appeals, and changes in trial court practice, such as increased reliance on mediation and other private forums.“Caseload trends in the district courts indicate that, when examined by type, the volume of appeals in family, probate, and administrative cases (except in the First District) has remained relatively constant and civil appeals have declined, likely due to increased use of mediation and greater stability in the law,” the committee found. “On the other hand, criminal case appeals have increased steadily during the same period, fueled by an almost tenfold increase in postconviction appeals.”Those findings led the committee to conclude that “future caseloads cannot be reliably projected based on linear calculations of populations and other data, but are dependent on uncertain contingencies regarding the legal and social structure.”The committee also found that judicial workload — the efforts required of judges as distinct from overall court workload that can be carried in part by staff — is less closely related to caseloads than is widely believed.“Judicial workload can be substantial for some case types and much less for others,” the report said. “Furthermore, workload continues to be highly influenced by changes in court processes and internal operations, such as the use of staff attorneys and deployment of information technologies that increase judicial efficiency. Thus, assessments and projections of a court’s workload cannot be reliably based on caseloads alone, but must be based on a number of interrelated factors.”In examining the relationship of the number of judges on a court and overall performance, the workload and jurisdiction committee looked to the 2004 report by the Performance and Accountability Commission, that found the widely held “assumption that a court would become less effective when the number of judges on the court approached 20 no longer holds true” due to “developments in court management practices, the deployment of resources such as central staffs, and the increased sophistication of information-sharing technologies, including video conferencing, e-mail, and document management.”The commission reported that “larger appellate courts with strong leadership, adequate staff support, well-considered case management strategies, and appropriate technology can operate with a collegial environment and efficiency similar to or even greater than that of a smaller court.”“In light of these conclusions, the Workload and Jurisdiction Committee does not support the use of arbitrary numerical thresholds to determine when caseload or court size are too great,” the opinion said, adding instead that the workload panel advocates an approach that concentrates on outcomes measured through indicia of performance.“The essential question to be asked. . . is not whether a court has too many judges, its caseload is too high, or it publishes too few opinions. The relevant question is simply whether, given the totality of the circumstances, Florida’s district courts are able to effectively and efficiently perform their primary functions in service to the people,” the committee reported to the court. “If the data indicate that the district courts are ‘struggling to fulfill their mission,’ then a redefinition of the appellate districts should be considered.”The court approved the committee’s recommended “outcomes-based” approach to assessment of the district courts because it “represents the best practices supported by current court management research. . . and is currently followed in both our circuit and district courts.”The rule provides for a review of the DCAs to be conducted every eight years by an assessment committee appointed by the chief justice, with the first review under the new rule to be done this year. I n Re: Report of the Committee on District Court of Appeal Workload and Jurisdiction—Rule of Judicial Administration 2.036., Case No. SC06-01.center_img Court sets out procedures for adding DCAslast_img

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