State Courts System

What is the purpose of the state courts system?

Florida courts 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 the Chief Justice in carrying out his or her responsibilities as the chief administrative officer of the judicial branch. 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 601 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 324 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 prosecutes for various types of fraud and other crimes and represents the state in criminal appeals and other issues related to state agency legal actions;
  • Capital Collateral Regional Counsels, who represent indigent persons in death row appeals;
  • Clerks of Court, who have multiple responsibilities, including keeping a docket for court cases, reporting case filings and dispositions, 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 (usually for health care reasons);
  • Sheriffs, who are responsible for executing all processes of the courts and for the provision of bailiffs;
  • 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; and
  • 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 2018-19, 3,580,173 cases were filed in trial courts and 20,286 cases were filed in appellate courts. For the 2019 calendar year, 2,171 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 has the sole authority to appoint commission members.  Four of the six Florida Bar 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 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, of whom at least two must be Florida Bar members. 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 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 vested with jurisdiction to investigate and recommend to the Supreme Court of Florida the removal from office of any judge whose conduct demonstrates a present unfitness to hold office and to investigate and recommend the reprimand of a judge whose conduct warrants such a reprimand.

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, trial 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 full-time Administrative Law Judges to conduct hearings in most cases in which the substantial interests of a person are determined by an agency and which involve a disputed issue of material fact.

How are these activities funded?

Fiscal Year: 2020-21
Title Fund Dollars Positions
STATE COURT SYSTEM
COURT OPERATIONS - ADMINISTERED FUNDS
0
.00
PROGRAM: DISTRICT COURTS OF APPEAL
COURT OPERATIONS - APPELLATE COURTS
51,981,543
445.00
PROGRAM: JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMISSION
JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMISSION OPERATIONS
1,031,071
4.00
PROGRAM: SUPREME COURT
COURT OPERATIONS - SUPREME COURT
12,092,149
99.00
EXECUTIVE DIRECTION AND SUPPORT SERVICES
28,305,987
194.00
PROGRAM: TRIAL COURTS
COURT OPERATIONS - CIRCUIT COURTS
392,511,227
3,008.50
COURT OPERATIONS - COUNTY COURTS
100,682,718
648.00
TOTAL
586,604,695
4,398.50

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 2019.
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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