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Florida budget deal keeps courts open

A deal between Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady and Gov. Rick Scott means the state's court systems will stay open through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The agreement narrowly avoids a statewide court system shutdown for four days next week and for two weeks in May. That shutdown that would have meant no one in Florida would have granted a divorce or had child custody or child support finalized, not to mention no criminal trials or routine court hearings would have been held.

The agreement involves a loan to the court system to keep it operating despite a $50 million shortfall caused, observers say, by a decline in foreclosures. The decline -- something most would consider good news -- is actually bad news for the court system, which derives much of its operating budget from foreclosures.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, if the court system had been forced to shut down, only a few essential services would have remained available:

  • Emergency custody hearings for parents accused of abusing or neglecting their children
  • Hearings on court orders protecting people who claim to be victimized by domestic violence
  • Initial criminal case hearings
  • Judges would likely have made themselves available to sign warrants for law enforcement officials

According to the newspaper, an Orange-Osceola judge blamed the governor for the impasse, saying the Florida Senate and House and both agreed to the loan, but that Scott withheld approval.

It isn't yet clear what funding will be available for the court system after the end of the fiscal year.

Resource: Orlando Sentinel: "Courts get funding reprieve. Won't be shuttered.": April 6, 2011

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