The House and Senate agreed Friday night on the contested placement of the 2nd District Court of Appeal. Lawmakers moved to place the new courthouse in Pinellas County, and name it after the late State Attorney Bernie McCabe.
This decision came amid budget deliberations between the two chambers. While both the House and Senate approved $50 million for a new 2nd District Court of Appeal building, the location of the facility was left undecided until the House’s latest budget bump offer, which the Senate OK’d Friday.
The location of the new site may come as a blow to Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Kelli Stargel. Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, set framework for a new facility in Polk County. Plans for a Polk County location were also included in the Senate’s original budget proposal,
Stargel’s husband, John Stargel, is a judge in the 2nd DCA, appointed last summer by DeSantis, who lives in Lakeland.
The original proposal stipulates that if a Polk County site cannot be identified, “funds may be used to purchase state or local lands within the jurisdiction of the 2nd District Court of Appeal.” While that means a location in another Tampa Bay county was not completely off the table, the proposed funding line prioritized Polk County, where Lakeland is the largest city.
But, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Pinellas County Republican, clashed with Stargel on the location, making clear the location of the courthouse in his home county was a priority.
Sprowls also used the move as a chance to honor the late McCabe, who Sprowls previously worked under. McCabe, who died in January, served as the area’s top prosecutor for nearly three decades and was a longtime mentor to Sprowls.
The proposed allocation is more than double the amount approved last year.
The Legislature in 2020 approved a $21 million expenditure to begin plans for a new facility in Pinellas County, likely at the state-owned Sebring Building in downtown St. Petersburg’s Mirror Lake neighborhood. However, the project fell victim to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Red Wedding” veto spree, spurred by expected revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic.
The location of the courthouse had also caused a stir among some local circles, including the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, which advocated in favor of the court being moved to Hillsborough or Pinellas County.
Those opposing the court’s location in Polk County reference a 2016 study that recommends a new 2nd DCA in one of the two more populated counties. The study, conducted by Savills Studley Occupier Services in conjunction with the National Center for State Courts, found a Hillsborough or Pinellas County location would serve a greater portion of 2nd DCA staff and concerned parties than any other location within the district.
Based on current estimates, the Lakeland Court’s lease should continue supporting existing operations through this year, while the existing lease in Tampa expires in 2023. This timeframe, the Chamber argues, gives the 2nd DCA the ability to plan for the best longterm option.
Stargel told Florida Politics previously that her proposed budget allocation for a Polk County location was consistent with state statute requiring its location in Lakeland. Florida State Statute 35.05 states the headquarters “shall be” located within “the Tenth Judicial Circuit, Lakeland, Polk County.”
The exact location of the new courthouse has yet to be determined. The agreement lawmakers reached on Friday requires the site to be on state or local land. If that isn’t available, the courts would work with the state to find another location in Pinellas County.