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Attorney Brendan A. Sweeney of Sweeney Law, P.A. Featured in the December Edition of the Broward County Bar Barrister, Current Issues Facing Broward County Court With the Honorable Robert W. Lee

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Broward County is Florida’s second largest county with a population just under two million people, and the caseloads are among the highest in the state. Judge Robert W. Lee, as the presiding Administrative Judge of Broward County Court, has his finger on the pulse of everything that is going on with the thirty-two Judges presiding in Broward’s County Court. This includes regular reviews of each County Court Judge’s dockets to ensure that the workload amongst the Judges is evenly distributed and reviewing reports of caseloads that are greater than eighteen months old. During my recent meeting with Judge Lee he had just finished his complete review, analysis, and evaluation of every County Court division, both civil and criminal. While some of Broward’s past Administrative Judges of County Court would handle a reduced caseload due to the immense administrative duties, Judge Lee handles a full caseload in addition to his duties as Administrative Judge of County Court. With the beginning of a new decade around the corner there are some new issues that Broward County Court is being faced with that Judge Lee would like all of us to know about.

On January 1, 2020 the jurisdictional limit in County Court will be increased from fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000.00) to thirty thousand dollars ($30,000.00) and will have a significant impact on County Court caseloads. With respect to the areas of law that are expected to increase with the new jurisdictional limit, the prognosticators all seem to agree that that there will most likely be a wave of consumer debt cases. These cases primarily concern credit card debt, as well as potentially first party insurance cases. Only the future will tell what will transpire; however, Judge Lee and his fellow Judges in Broward County Court are all well prepared for the new influx of cases.

The 2020 electoral season will most likely be one of the most important in recent history, due to many high-profile positions having open seats for the first time in years. These include, but are not limited to, State Attorney and Public Defender, as well as elections for Clerk of the Circuit Court and Sheriff. In addition to their regular duties, this 2020 electoral season brings a logistical nightmare for County Judges to preside in Court and manage their regular dockets, as well as comply with section 102.141, Florida Statutes. Section 102.141, Fla. Stat., specifically sets forth the duties of the County Canvassing Board and requires that Judges be at all voting tabulation locations and canvass the votes as soon as the votes are opened. Twenty-eight of the thirty-two sitting Broward County Court Judges will be in the eighteen-week, four Judge per week rotation. The tabulation of votes commences with the mail-in ballots, starting at 7:00 a.m., and continues well into the very late hours of the night. Judge Lee, who cut his teeth as a Judge in the electoral process in the historic Bush vs. Gore, has already thoroughly thought everything out, and has already handled the assignment and backups for the entire eighteen-week period.

One area which has dramatically changed since Judge Lee rose to the bench in 1997 is the increased oversight by the Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) based out of Tallahassee. The State Court Administrator serves under the direction of the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court and the other six justices and oversees the operation of numerous court initiatives and administrative functions throughout Florida’s state courts. Rule 2.250, Fla. R. Jud. Admin. sets forth what is presumptively reasonable to complete cases throughout Florida. Pursuant to Rule 2.250, Fla. R. Jud. Admin., civil jury cases shall take eighteen (18) months from filing to final disposition, non-jury cases shall be disposed within twelve (12) months, and small claims matters shall be disposed of within ninety-five days. These deadlines are for the entire state, and do not take into account the size of the jurisdiction, or the population of the area. The increased oversight by OSCA coupled with underfunding within the Judicial branch, has put a lot of pressure on Judges in Broward County, and throughout Florida.

With the new decade on the horizon, there are many new issues and matters that the Broward Judiciary is facing. Rest assured, the Broward County Court Judges are ready for the new wave of litigation due to increased jurisdictional limits, increased demand on their time due to the electoral season, and increased oversight by the OSCA to ensure that cases are being disposed of in an appropriate time frame.

See page 15 for original article – https://www.browardbar.org/wp-content/uploads/barrister/2019/dec/2019-December-Barrister.pdf

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