Florida Is Facing Its Civil Justice Challenges

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga (Photo: floridasupremecourt.org)

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga (Photo: floridasupremecourt.org)

When Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga organized a statewide commission to study civil justice access issues, it was suspected that one benefit might be to at least create conversation around the issue. While other progress might be slow in coming, you can at least point to ongoing discussion as a success. A case in point is a recent Gainesville Sun newspaper editorial getting picked up around the state.
The piece notes that when “… someone faces a legal problem with a landlord, a family law issue or other civil disputes, finding and affording the right lawyer can be a challenge. The World Justice Project ranked the United States 65th out of 99 countries in accessibility and affordability of civil justice… the problem is particularly bad in Florida. An estimated 60 percent of residents can’t afford an attorney to address their legal need, but don’t qualify for legal aid, according to officials with The Florida Bar.”
The editorial addresses the idea of matching young lawyers with clients via technology and reports on a bar association push-back on using a dues increase to fund improvements. Clearly, it continues the civil justice conversation that other states should be having. Read more here.

AZ Case Shows How Little Border Patrol Fears Courts

Anyone looking for an example of Border Patrol officials basically ignoring the U.S. courts might check out a southern Arizona case. Migrants there have long complained about dirty and overcrowded cells, explains the Arizona Republic newspaper, and about being held in frigid cells deprived of adequate food and water, not to mention denied medical care. The ACLU and other groups sued, and the Republic explains that “… a federal judge then ordered the Border Patrol to save all video surveillance tapes dating back to June 10 at the eight holding facilities in the Tucson sector, one of the nation’s busiest, in response to a request from the ACLU seeking evidence to prove its case.”

But it turns out the Border Patrol has since “willfully” destroyed video recordings in direct violation of U.S. District Court Judge David C. Bury’s order, the newspaper says. Government officials say it was a technical problem. The judge issued sanctions (no doubt strongly worded!) but otherwise there seem few consequences to defying the court.” See the story here.

Most Immigration Judges Can Retire Now If They Want

With a Sept. 30 deadline passed, more than half of the United States 247 immigration judges, staffing 58 courts nationwide, are eligible to retire. This as the nation faces an immigration courts backlog of more than 450,000 cases. The Los Angeles Times offers a truly alarming look at the situation, starting with outlining that some judges – who are not actually federal judges but employees of the Justice Department – preside over thousands of cases.
The LAT also notes that “… the U.S. attorney general appoints immigration judges. Officials have already started ‘an aggressive hiring process,’ said Kathryn Mattingly, an immigration court spokeswoman. They have hired 18 judges, five more will start this fiscal year, and they plan to hire an additional 67, she said. Last fiscal year, about 100 judges were eligible to retire, but only 13 did, she said.” But the paper quotes current judges lamenting how much more difficult working conditions have become.

Huffington Post Documents How Bad Civil Courts Rationing Is

Rationing justice, civil and criminal, begins with overburdened courts. And Huffington Post just released well-researched report on just how bad it’s become on a federal level, with more than 60 judgeships going unfilled and pleas for more help being ignored by the U.S. Congress. In some cases, judges are handling hundreds more cases than “normal” while pushing cases further and further away, threatening anyone’s hopes of achieving justice.
The report explains: “The Huffington Post talked to half a dozen federal judges about how court vacancies and the lack of new judgeships affect their workloads. All of them said they feel like they’re underwater and desperately need more judges, but at the same time, they aren’t comfortable calling out Congress for failing to do its job. Many didn’t feel it appropriate for a judge to weigh in on legislative or political matters. So their situations don’t change.”
It includes: “For the most part, we’ve just resigned ourselves that this is our fate and there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Judge Morrison England Jr., the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, which includes O’Neill’s Fresno division. “We’ve complained. We’ve begged. We’ve cajoled. We’ve done everything you can humanly do to try to get additional judgeships.” Yahoo adds that the Fresno division is among the hardest hit in the country, and even getting the allotted judges would not meet caseload demand.