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Court Funding ‘A Priority’ Gov. Scott Tells Lawyers

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South Florida Crime

TALLAHASSEE – (CBSMiami.com) – Florida courts are under increasing pressure to make do with less even as numerous foreclosure and criminal cases continue to flood the judicial system daily.

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott said he would make court funding a priority and said he was “acutely aware of the funding crisis faced by the courts.”

Cost-cutting measures are already being felt throughout Miami-Dade’s courthouses, which receives $48,503,661 from the state. The county kicks in another $24,146,000, but those numbers may change as commissioners are set to approve a new budget next month.

One recent cost-cutting measure has replaced court reporters with digital court reporters.

“It’s an operator with a computer that listens to what is being said and creates a transcript,” said Eunice Sigler, a spokeswoman for the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida.

She added that in family court, there’s an audio recording device that has taken over the job of court reporting.

Many lawyers have criticized the move. Others — including judicial assistants — say it’s just a sign of the times and fear more cuts could put them out of a job.

But Scott painted a more upbeat picture about court funding at a Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association luncheon in Naples Monday.

“I am acutely aware of the funding crisis faced by the courts,” Scott said. “I plan to make court funding a priority during the next legislative session. The judiciary is a coequal branch of government. The courts need a steady, predictable funding source so that our citizens can be confident in the steady, predictable administration of justice. Anything less is simply unacceptable.”

The way courts are funded was changed by the state legislature in 2009. Lawmakers created the State Courts Revenue Trust Fund, which is paid into by court system users. At first, fees from the numerous foreclosure cases helped boost the system’s coffers. But court funding took a hit when a moratorium on new foreclosures was put in place.

Last year, courts had to ask the state for an emergency cash infusion from the state to deal with it.

Scott also said he planned not increase taxes and said court administrators should budget wisely.

“Every dollar that government spends, whether it is for roads, Medicaid, parks or courts, should be accounted for so when a funding request comes across my desk, the first question I ask is this: has the money been spent effectively in the past, and what measures exist to show that,” Scott said in a prepared speech.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)

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