The 2020-2021 pandemic created a big challenge for the Florida court system in how to keep operating without placing court participants in unsafe situations. While the state’s appellate courts and the Supreme Court were largely unaffected thanks to the use of Zoom calls for oral arguments, the circuit and county court dockets were greatly impacted on the trial court level because of the inability to convene juries due to health safety concerns. Justice Canady explained that by the time the courts resumed full operation in June of 2021, there was a backlog of 600,000 cases.
“Since then, we have been successful in an overall reduction of the backlog by 30%,” Justice Canady told the Club. “Some dockets have not done as well as others. We’ve got some problems on some of the (criminal) dockets. But on the circuit civil and the county civil dockets, where we imposed the aggressive case management requirement, we’ve had dramatic reductions in the backlog. In fiscal year 2021, the trial courts actually resolved more than 2.7 million cases,” he said, thanking the lawyers, judges, and court personnel who made it happen.
While Florida is the third most populous state in the country, he said its court system has the fifth lowest number of trial court judges per capita among the 50 states. There are 935 judges, including the Supreme Court and the five District Courts of Appeal. Its current year budget of $667 million is seven-tenths of 1-percent of the $100 billion state budget.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a lean system. It’s a small percentage of our budget, as I said, but it’s real money, and it’s taxpayer money, and we need to make sure we get the full, effective use of that money,” Justice Canady said. “We certify judgeships if we think there’s an additional need for judgeships.”
Justice Canady took questions from Club members, including his reaction to the recent leak of the U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that suggests the justices will overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.
“That’s a very serious matter. So far as I know, we’ve never had a breach of our court security. But it’s absolutely essential that the deliberations of courts be confidential and not leaked… that’s just corrupt justice if it’s leaked,” he replied.
Justice Canady graduated from Yale Law School in 1979. After private practice in Lakeland, Florida, he served three terms in the Florida House of Representative and four terms in the United States House of Representatives. He was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Governor Charlie Crist and took office on September 8, 2008 and was subsequently retained by voters in 2018 and 2020.
The address by Justice Canady was also notable in that, in the audience, was a former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice, Major Harding, who introduced Justice Canady, and the incoming Chief Justice Carlos Muniz, who will succeed him as Chief Justice on July 1.