Veto list: $65M for Bernie McCabe Courthouse, 6th DCA courthouse slashed
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 3/09/22-Senate Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, studies paperwork prior to the Budget Conference Committee, Wednesday night at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The courthouses were a priority of Sen. Kelly Stargel and House Speaker Chris Sprowls.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has cut funding for two proposed Tampa Bay courthouses — a sting for House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel, who have been pushing for the projects for the past few years.

The cuts — which together account for $65 million — are part of DeSantis’ veto list, released Thursday afternoon upon signing the 2022-23 budget. The Governor vetoed $50 million for a 6th District Court of Appeal courthouse in Lakeland, as well as $15 million set aside for the 2nd DCA Bernie McCabe Courthouse in Pinellas County.

Plans for the new Lakeland courthouse came after lawmakers cleared legislation (PCB JDC 22-01) this year that would create a 6th DCA, headquartered in Lakeland, leaving room for the 2nd DCA courthouse in Pinellas County.

The placement of the 2nd DCA Pinellas County Courthouse was originally contested in the 2021 Legislative Session between two of the highest ranking GOP leaders in the Legislature. While Stargel pushed to establish the new courthouse in her hometown district of Lakeland, the push by the Pinellas County-based Sprowls ultimately proved successful. Stargel’s husband, John Stargel, is a judge in the 2nd DCA, appointed last summer by Gov. DeSantis, and lives in Lakeland.

While it previously looked like both legislators could have their court and build it too with the addition of the 6th DCA, now it seems construction on a new courthouse could be put on hold after being struck by the Governor’s veto pen. So while the new DCA is likely to be approved, Stargel may have to wait on a courthouse. 

In a deal struck this past Session, the Lakeland courthouse is set to be named after the late appellate judge Oliver L. Green.

The 6th DCA would be composed of Florida’s 6th, 12th and 13th Judicial circuits. The addition will realign and change the number of appellate judges in each of the other five districts, including the appointment of seven new judges. It will also be the first time Florida added a new DCA since 1979.

The bill creating the 6th DCA sprung up 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.

The cost of adding the new judges and staff is expected to be an additional $4.3 million, according to the bill’s cost analysis summary.

The Bernie McCabe Courthouse in Pinellas County, however, already has some funds to get started after receiving $50 million approved in last year’s budget. This year’s $15 million, initially secured by Sprowls’ “sprinkle list,” was planned to help with overage contingency as it enters its early construction phases.

The Pinellas County courthouse project was championed by Sprowls — who has lauded late state prosecutor Bernie McCabe as a mentor. It is set to be located at the Sebring Building at 525 Mirror Lake Drive North, Sprowls announced back in December. 

Currently, court cases for the 2nd District are being heard in a classroom in downtown Tampa, as the dilapidated courthouse in Lakeland was making its workers sick from mold infestation, according to a news release from the Speaker’s Office. Inman has notified affected state agency leadership, and in the coming months, will work on the movement of employees based on individual agency needs.

In 2020, the Legislature approved a $21 million expenditure to begin plans for a new facility in Pinellas County. However, the project fell victim to Gov. DeSantis’ “Red Wedding” veto spree, spurred by expected revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].

One comment

  • RonDeSantis Sucks

    June 2, 2022 at 6:23 pm

    I’m not a fan of adding a new DCA, honestly. Seems like a waste of time and money. DeSantis’ veto of this is one of the very few things I agree with him on.

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