Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability
Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability

State Courts System

What is the purpose of the state courts system?

Florida courts seek to protect rights and liberties, uphold and interpret the law, and provide a forum for dispute resolution. Similar to other state and federal courts, Florida courts are common law courts whose decision making controls the resolution of similar subsequent cases, although they operate within a mixed legal framework that combines common law elements with statutory interpretation.

How is the state courts system organized?

The State Courts System consists of the entities listed below.
  • The Supreme Court, the highest state appellate court, has seven justices and statewide jurisdiction. The Chief Justice is the administrator of the state courts system. The Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) serves under the direction of the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court and the other six justices and oversees the operation of numerous court initiatives and administrative functions. The court also regulates admission of lawyers to the Florida Bar and the discipline of judges and lawyers.
  • The District Courts of Appeal are comprised of 64 judges in five geographic districts, who review decisions of lower tribunals using multi-judge panels.
  • The Circuit Courts, the highest level trial court in each of the 20 judicial circuits, are served by 606 judges. The circuit courts hear, for example, felony cases, family law matters, and civil cases not under the jurisdiction of the county courts.
  • The County Courts, the lowest level trial courts, with at least one judge in each county, are served by 334 judges. The county courts hear, for example, misdemeanor cases, small claims cases, and civil cases not exceeding $30,000 if filed on or after January 1, 2020, and not exceeding $50,000 if filed on or after January 1, 2023.
Other entities that also have a role in the judicial system include the following.
  • Attorney General, who is responsible for protecting Florida consumers from various types of fraud, enforcing the state’s antitrust laws, defends the state in civil litigation cases, and represents the people of Florida when criminals appeal their convictions in state and federal courts.
  • Capital Collateral Regional Counsels, who represent each person convicted and sentenced to death in the state for the sole purpose of instituting and prosecuting collateral actions challenging the legality of the judgment and sentence imposed against such person.
  • Clerks of Court, who have multiple responsibilities, including attending court hearings and trials, processing all civil and criminal cases, jury management, maintaining custody of all evidence and exhibits entered by the court, and collecting court costs and fees.
  • Judicial Nominating Commissions, which recommend persons to fill judicial vacancies.
  • Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigates and recommends discipline of judges.
  • Public Defenders, who represent indigent persons charged with a felony or certain misdemeanors, alleged delinquents and other persons, such as alleged mentally ill persons, who are being involuntarily placed in a treatment facility, and represents indigent persons on criminal appeals.
  • Sheriffs, who are responsible for executing all processes of the courts and attend all sessions of the circuit and county court held in their county.
  • State Attorneys, who prosecute or defend on behalf of the state, all suits, applications, or motions, civil or criminal, in which the state is a party.
  • Statewide Prosecutor, who prosecute on behalf of the state organized crimes, serious offenses, and crimes that occur across multiple jurisdictions.

How many cases are filed?

In Fiscal Year 2019-20, 2,974,726 cases were filed in trial courts and 17,785 cases were filed in appellate courts. For the 2020 calendar year, 1,903 cases were added to the Florida Supreme Court docket. Additional statistics are available on OSCA's statistics webpage.

How are judicial vacancies filled?

Judicial vacancies are filled by the Governor from a list of three candidates nominated by the appropriate Judicial Nominating Commission. There are separate nominating commissions for the Supreme Court, district courts of appeal, and each judicial circuit. The circuit court commissions make nominations for both circuit and county judges. Judicial Nominating Commissions are made up of nine members. The Governor appoints commission members. Four of the members must be selected from nominees from the Board of Governors of the Florida Bar. The Board of Governors must submit a list of three to six recommended nominees for each of the positions, from which the Governor may select his appointment. The Governor may reject all nominees and request a new list of persons who have not been previously nominated. For the remaining five commission positions, the Governor directly appoints the member. In making appointments, consideration should be given to ethnic, racial, and gender composition, along with the geographic distribution of the population within the commission and the adequacy of the representation of each county. The term of office for commission members is four years, appointed to staggered terms. Judicial Nominating Commission members for any district court of appeal or any judicial circuit are also required to comply with financial reporting standards under the definition of state officers as specified in s. 112.3145, Florida Statutes.

Who investigates judicial misconduct?

The Judicial Qualifications Commission is an independent agency created by the Florida Constitution solely to investigate alleged misconduct by Florida state judges. It is not a part of the Florida Supreme Court or the state courts and operates under rules it establishes for itself. The commission only has authority to recommend discipline. Final authority to determine whether the commission's recommendation is legally correct rests with the Supreme Court.

What other state employees carry out quasi-judicial functions?

Florida trial courts use magistrates, hearing officers, and mediators to assist the judges. Under the supervision of a judge, magistrates and hearing officers perform quasi-judicial functions such as hearing cases and providing recommended orders for judicial review. Final orders are signed by the judge. Mediators are neutral parties assist the court by working with litigants to resolve disputes without judicial intervention, though final agreements are signed by the judge. Additionally, courts use senior judges, who are retired judges who are eligible to serve on assignment to temporary judicial duty. Outside of the state court system, the Division of Administrative Hearings employs Administrative Law Judges to conduct hearings and adjudicate disputes related to Florida state agency rules.

How are these activities funded?

Fiscal Year: 2021-22
Fund Dollars Positions
STATE COURT SYSTEM
ADMINISTERED FUNDS - JUDICIAL
COURT OPERATIONS - ADMINISTERED FUNDS
1,087,500
.00
PROGRAM: DISTRICT COURTS OF APPEAL
COURT OPERATIONS - APPELLATE COURTS
105,877,183
445.00
PROGRAM: JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMISSION
JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMISSION OPERATIONS
1,054,049
4.00
PROGRAM: SUPREME COURT
COURT OPERATIONS - SUPREME COURT
12,773,431
99.00
EXECUTIVE DIRECTION AND SUPPORT SERVICES
35,845,464
194.00
PROGRAM: TRIAL COURTS
COURT OPERATIONS - CIRCUIT COURTS
430,928,658
3,020.50
COURT OPERATIONS - COUNTY COURTS
107,363,190
668.00
TOTAL
694,929,475
4,430.50

Where can I find related OPPAGA reports?

A complete list of related OPPAGA reports is available on our website.

Where can I get more information?

Other Reports
Annual Reports, The Florida State Courts.
Florida Courts Technology Commission Yearly Report, Appellate Court Technology Committee, April 2020.
Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives, Office of the State Courts Administrator, 2016.
Publications, Office of the State Court Administrator.
Statistics, Office of the State Court Administrator.
The Auditor General reports on the state courts system are available on its website.
Websites of Interest
Florida Rules of Court Procedure
National Center for State Courts
Court Statistics Project
Performance Information
Performance measures and standards for the department may be found in its Long Range Program Plan.

What are the applicable statutes?

Article V, Constitution of the State of Florida, and Chs25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 34, and 35, Florida Statutes.

Whom do I contact for help?

Office of the State Courts Administrator, Supreme Court of Florida, 850-922-5081

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