The Florida court system comprises county and circuit courts at the trial level, district courts of appeal, and a Supreme Court at the appellate level. County and circuit court judges are elected. The Governor appoints district court judges and Supreme Court justices. However, when a judicial vacancy occurs in a county or circuit court, the Governor appoints a successor (Florida Courts, 2022). County courts deal with traffic, small claims, civil cases, and misdemeanors. Circuit courts deal with felonies, family law, probate, guardianship, mental health, juvenile dependency, and appeals of decisions in administrative and noncriminal cases. Whereas, District courts of appeal focuses on matters not directly appealable to the Supreme Court or a circuit court. Supreme Courts in Florida concentrates on death penalty cases, bond validations, and public utility cases.
Election process in circuit and county courts is the most complicated one. According to the official Florida Courts statement, “circuit and county court judges are elected in non-partisan races for six-year terms. In non-partisan elections, candidates appear on the ballot without relation to any political party”. According to the Florida Courts (2022), a person can be qualified to run for judicial election after getting a law degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. They would have to be an elector of the county and must have been a member of The Florida Bar for five years. They must be active members of the Florida Bar for at least ten years. As well as that, judicial candidates must run in the geographic areas in which they reside. A judge in Florida does not have to have specific education or experience. Although, Judges cannot serve in Florida past the age of 70.
District Court of Appeal judges have the same selection process as Supreme Court justices. District court judges play a key role in defining the legal context of certain types of civil and criminal cases (Hinojosa et al., 2020). The Governor appoints them after being screened by Judicial Nominating Commissions. They, too, face their first retention votes within two years and afterward, if retained, every six years.
The Supreme Court’s seven justices serve staggered terms. The Governor appoints them through the merit selection process from recommendations made by the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. To be eligible for the office of Justice, a person must be a registered voter who lives in Florida and must have been admitted to the practice of law in Florida for the preceding ten years (Florida Supreme Court, 2022). After the appointment, a justice faces a merit retention election within two years. After that, merit retention elections are held every six years.
In order to remove a judge from office for disciplinary reasons, one can undertake actions such as voting the judge out of the office or impeaching them. Judges usually have to be accused of very serious misconduct to be impeached, such as associating with organized crime figures or embezzlement. The Judicial Qualifications Commission (FJQC) is an independent agency created by the Florida Constitution purely to investigate alleged misconduct by Florida state judges (Jarvis, 2022). It is not a part of the Florida Supreme Court or the state courts and operates under the rules it establishes for itself (Jarvis, 2022). As well as that, judges can be found guilty of negligence to be removed.
In Florida, the qualifications of a judge, and the potential for disciplinary action, have an impact on judicial decision-making. While to be elected to become a judge, one must prove their qualifications, they also have to prove that they have a low potential for any disciplinary actions to retain their seat. FJQC, as an independent entity, identifies the misconducts by Florida state judges and carries out the decisions. Thus, the potential for disciplinary actions might not strongly impact the judicial decision-making process.
Florida Courts (2022). Florida courts. Web.
Hinojosa, A., Kreuter, U.P. & Wonkka, C.L. (2020). Liability and the Use of Prescribed Fire in the Southern Plains, USA: A Survey of District Court Judges. Land, 9(318). Web.
Jarvis, R. M. (2022) Florida’s Judicial Ethics Rules: History, Text, and Use. 76 U. MIA L. Rev. 982. Web.