A House Judiciary Committee bill adding a sixth District Court of Appeal (DCA) to Florida’s appellate system passed the committee unanimously Thursday.
The legislation (PCB JDC 22-01) would create the 6th DCA headquartered in Pinellas County. It would be composed of Florida’s 6th, 12th and 13th Judicial circuits. The decision also would realign and change the number of appellate judges in each of the other five districts. If the legislation is passed, it will be the first time Florida added a new DCA since 1979.
The bill was created in a response to a 6-1 Florida Supreme Court recommendation to add the new DCA in November. The court agreed with the recommendation from the District Court of Appeal Workload and Jurisdiction Assessment Committee — formed by Chief Justice Charles Canady — that adding a new DCA would boost citizen trust in the judicial system.
“We agree with the committee’s conclusion that public trust and confidence will be enhanced by the creation of a sixth district court,” the justices wrote.
Michael Orr, a member of the assessment committee and the Florida Bar Board of Governors, spoke in support of the addition of the 6th DCA at Thursday’s meeting. He said that growth in the number of appeals cases (9,500 in 1979 to more than 20,000 today) and the lengthening of the appeals process make adding another DCA necessary to build public trust.
“The cases have changed. Now you have years and years of discovery,” he said. “It’s almost like comparing apples to oranges from years past.”
Rep. Tommy Gregory, who also is a lawyer, agreed with the Florida Supreme Court and the Assessment Committee’s reasoning. He said it could reduce court times, making Florida residents engaged in the appeals process happier.
“If you add more judges, the public trust and confidence in the system grows because we can move cases more efficiently,” Gregory said. “It’s our one place in government where adding more makes the trust grow. It’s not like we are adding new senators or representatives.”
The addition of the new DCA would come with millions in expenses. The cost of adding the new judges would be $4.3 million, according to the bill’s cost analysis summary. An analysis of how much a temporary and permanent home for the 6th DCA would cost has not been conducted.
Rep. Ben Diamond voted in support of the bill, but said he wants to see a deeper review done about costs when the bill hits other committees.
“We are talking about spending a large amount of money on a recurring basis,” he said.
If the bill is passed, here are the changes that would come to each DCA:
— 1st DCA: It would lose the 4th Circuit, instead consisting of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th and 14th Circuits. Its appellate judge count would also drop from 15 to 13.
— 2nd DCA: It would lose the 6th, 12th and 13th Circuits and gain the 9th. That means it would consist of the 9th, 10th, and 20th Circuits. Its appellate judge count would drop from 16 to 9.
— 3rd DCA: Unchanged
— 4th DCA: Unchanged
— 5th DCA: It would lose the 9th Circuit but gain the 4th Circuit. Its appellate judge count would increase from 11 to 12.
— 6th DCA: The newly formed DCA would consist of the 6th, 12th, and 13th Circuits. It would have 15 appellate judges.