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Courts Want Gov. Scott To Plug Their Budget Hole

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TALLAHASSEE (CBS4/NSF) – Florida’s courts have asked Gov. Rick Scott for an emergency cash infusion of $45.6 million to help offset a budget shortfall.

The financially-plagued courts are facing a budget hole of $108 million due to a continued drop-off in filing fees stemming from the slowdown in mortgage foreclosures.

In a letter sent to Gov. Rick Scott  Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady asked the governor for a temporary transfer of $45.6 million from general revenue into a trust fund designed to pay for courts.

The trust fund is used to pay for the operation of the state courts, including the criminal courts in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties,  and was originally intended to have $432 million for this fiscal year. But the latest revenue estimates peg the trust fund at offering only $272.9 million. The money that goes into the fund comes from court filing fees.

Florida’s courts have had a bumpy financial road since 2009, when the way they are funded was overhauled. Instead of being funded through general revenue, the Legislature created a trust fund paid supplied through the filing fees. At the time, the foreclosure crisis was providing plenty of money for the fund.

But when lawsuits over faulty foreclosure paperwork escalated, and many mortgage companies froze foreclosures as a result, the money flowing into the state trust fund from filing fees dried up last year.

Florida Supreme Court spokeswoman Craig Waters said this year, foreclosures were expected to rebound more than they have, leaving the courts with an unexpectedly large budget shortfall.

Without financial help from Scott, the courts might have to shut down for furlough periods and place a priority on criminal cases that involve due process rights, creating a potential backlog in civil cases.

Canady said he wants the Legislature to address funding for courts when it convenes in January 2012.

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