Judges Plan Break from Tradition

A new study may cause the Florida Supreme Court to break with a largely unorthodox tradition.

A recent report issued to the Florida Supreme Court from the Judicial Branch Study Group recommended that Florida’s Chief Justice begin serving a four-year term, as opposed to the traditional two years.

To date, there are only four other states that rotate the position of chief justice every two years.

The chief justice is the presiding member of the state court and is responsible for presiding over all sessions and serving as chair during private deliberations.

Charles Canady presently serves as chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

The current practice for appointing the chief justice every two years, as observed by the study group, is by selecting the most senior justice who has not yet served as chief.

The study group, chaired by Justice Ricky Polston, described the method of rotating the position as inadequate and said two years as chief does not allow the justice enough time to successfully master the role.

“The brief term of each chief justice is widely viewed as disruptive for developing relationships and influence with the legislative and executive branches,” the study group reported.

According to Craig Waters, the public information officer of the Florida Supreme Court, if all necessary actions occur, the new four-year term for chief justice can take effect July 2012 as stated in the report. “But the court has to agree with that and can change the date,” said Waters. “There’s no way of knowing that.”

Mayanne Downs, president of the Florida Bar, said she completely agrees with the study group’s recommendation for the chief to serve a longer term.

“Two years is not enough time for a chief to learn the job, develop relationships, and unify judges around the state to act effectively,” said Downs.

Downs believes a six-year term would be even better, but thinks the recommendation for a four-year term is a great step and doesn’t think there will be any cons for lengthening the term.

“If a justice is qualified to sit on court, they’re qualified to sit as chief,” Downs said.

“They deserve a longer period of time.”

A new, more effective process for appointing new chief justices was also recommended by the study group.

Selection, “should be based upon essential leadership and management skills,” as opposed to traditional selection based upon seniority.

Waters also emphasized that this recommendation was only a proposal and the issue has not yet been taken up in court.