Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 3:38 p.m.
Outgoing Chief Judge Victor Tobin called a closed-door meeting of all 90 Broward judges this afternoon to discuss a budget shortfall that is threatening to shut down courthouses across the state.
During the meeting, the idea was raised to "call the bluff" of Rick Scott and the Florida House and shut down the courthouse altogether in protest of the Legislature's actions, according to one of the judges in attendance. Tobin and his soon-to-be replacement, Circuit Judge Peter Weinstein, didn't like that idea.
Instead, they spoke of instituting unpaid work furloughs coming for judicial assistants and other courthouse personnel. Although they questioned whether judges, who are constitutional officers of the state, could legally be furloughed, the consensus was that should the furloughs come for other courthouse employees, judges will voluntarily be subjected to them as well.
A $54 million budget shortfall for the state's justice system has reportedly been caused by a reduction in foreclosure filing fees, a large chunk of the Florida court system's total $473 million budget. It's hard to say what's more sad -- that the court system is in a budget crisis that the Legislature won't fund or that our justice system was expected to get a huge amount of its overall funding from the foreclosure crisis that has devastated so many families.
Courthouse employees could be furloughed as much as a week every month -- and while judges can afford that, other employees -- like judicial assistants who make salaries in the $35,000 range -- would be severely impacted.
A judge present at Tobin's meeting agreed to talk freely about the situation so long as his or her identity wasn't published. This judge basically said that the fault lies not with any revenue shortfalls but with a "scary" Gov. Rick Scott and the anti-judiciary Florida House Speaker, Dean Cannon.
"Why shouldn't the Legislature be held in contempt for not fully funding the judiciary?" the judge asked rhetorically. "The issue was raised about a protest to shut down the courthouse, everything, the jail, civil suits, domestic violence injunctions, first appearances. Call their bluff, but Tobin was
not keen to that."
The judge pointed at Scott and Florida House Speaker Cannon as two politicians who want to punish the court system for their own political and personal reasons. It's true hat Cannon is outspokenly hostile to the judiciary -- and especially disdainful of the Florida Supreme Court -- after the high court struck three Republican initiatives from the ballot because they were misleading or otherwise deficient.
The Broward judge also pointed the finger at Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady, a former Republican congressman, whom the judge claims is forsaking the Florida court system because he is ideologically aligned with the arch-conservative leadership in Tallahassee. "We don't have a chief justice right now with balls," said the judge. "We happen to have a chief justice who is of the same ilk as Rick Scott and the Legislature."
Canady should threaten to shut down courthouses across Florida to call the bluff of the likes of Cannon and Scott, said the judge.
"The Legislature and the governor are fucking with us," said the judge. "They are saying we are in the hole for x millions of dollars. It's like, 'Who the fuck are you kidding?' This has nothing to do with the budget. Dean Cannon is antijudiciary because he had three amendments that were shot down. And Rick Scott? Rick Scott could give a fucking rat's ass about the judiciary. We're a co-equal branch of government, but we're getting treated worse than a stepchild. Rick Scott doesn't give a shit. The guy is scary because he doesn't care. If you go up to him and say we need to do this or 100 people will die, he'll say, 'Oh, too bad; I'll send flowers.'
"He spent $73 million of his own money to get elected, and he can tell everybody to fuck off. It's going to be a four-year governorship, and he's probably becoming the most-hated man in Florida other than Ted Bundy. It's probably going to be a four-year governorship, but that means we're stuck with him for four years."
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