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Florida House Unanimously Approves Plan That Would Permanently Add a County Judge in Flagler

| April 7, 2019

For now, Melissa Distler is the only certified county judge in Flagler. A House bill seeks to add a second county judge. (c FlaglerLive)

For now, Melissa Distler is the only certified county judge in Flagler. A House bill seeks to add a second county judge. (c FlaglerLive)

The Florida House on Thursday unanimously approved a plan to add two new county judges, one of them in Flagler, where County Judge Melissa Distler’s workload has long been among the heaviest in the state. The second county judgeship would be in Citrus.

The Legislature last year approved enough money for both counties to add “senior judges” to their bench to alleviate the workload, but that was a one-year appropriation. Last December, the state Supreme Court certified the need for four new circuit judgeships (in the First and Fourteenth judicial circuits and two in the Ninth Judicial Circuit), and decertified three county court judgeships (one in Pasco County and two in Brevard).

This year’s House bill, HB5011, sponsored by Palm Coast’s Paul Renner, would make the addition of county judges in Flagler and Citrus permanent. The total, annual recurring cost would be $613,274 for both seats. A county judge is currently paid $151,822, not including benefits. Support staff accounts for other costs.

The Senate is considering a bill that would add two circuit judgeships.

The House voted 112-0 to approve the 17-line Renner bill. The Flagler County Commission had made securing a new judgeships one of its legislative priorities this year, as it had in previous years. But the plan has yet to cross a hurdle in the Senate and get the governor’s signature. If the plan is approved, it would go in effect on July 1, 2019, and the seat would presumably be on the ballot in the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled Tuesday to take up a proposal (SB 7072), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, that would add one circuit judge in the 9th Judicial Circuit and one circuit judge in the 12th Judicial Circuit.

The 9th Circuit is made up of Orange and Osceola counties, while the 12th Circuit is made up of DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

The Florida Supreme Court each year recommends adding or eliminating judgeships across the state. But the legislative proposals differ significantly from the court’s recommendation. The court bases its recommendation on data provided by the chief judge of each circuit (in the case of Flagler’s 7th Judicial Circuit, which also includes St. Johns, Volusia and Putnam, it’s Chief Judge Raul Zambrano, who formerly sat in Flagler.)

“The objective data are supplemented by judgeship requests submitted by the lower courts, including various secondary factors. These secondary factors,” the court wrote in December, “identified by each chief judge reflect local differences in support of their requests for more judgeships or in support of their requests to not decertify judgeships in situations where the objective case weights alone would indicate excess judicial capacity.”

The opinion added: “Given the recent interest by the Florida Legislature in adjusting county court jurisdiction, it is possible county court jurisdiction thresholds for civil cases, the procedures and path for appeals in certain cases, and small claims jurisdiction amounts may be adjusted. Precise estimates of how these changes would affect objective measures are challenging when considered individually and more so when multiple adjustments are contemplated. Any of the changes can reasonably be expected to shift workload in county, circuit, and appellate courts.”

8 Responses for “Florida House Unanimously Approves Plan That Would Permanently Add a County Judge in Flagler”

  1. capt says:

    About freaking time.

  2. palmcoaster says:

    Totally agreed that was a desperate need for one more judge in Flagler.

  3. really says:

    Now start with sentencing that fits the crime and no pleas on 2nd,3rd, Offenses by career wash rinse repeat Felons

  4. Stretchem says:

    If you take a gander at the daily docket at the courthouse, you’ll see hundreds of insurance and debt collections cases where a vast majority are by corporations and associate firms taking advantage of an overburdened county and circuit. These corporations know this and specifically target this circuit in hopes of slipping through the cracks due to a severe lack of judicial oversight.

    It’s pathetic. Should never have gotten to this point. This was in essence created by our former governor Scott who relished and thrived on taking advantage of a broken, corrupt insurance system. That’s how he initially made his fortune.

    For the people.

  5. JF says:

    I am sorry, but in my opinion there is no need for additional county judges. Furthermore have any of y’all ever been in the county court and see how fast it goes? The judge sits on the stand and hands whatever judgement he/she sees fit. $151,822 a year WOW WAKE UP PEOPLE THIS IS REDICULOUS!. Maybe the next election we will get a new county judge who doesn’t wine about having to actually do some work. Judge Attic did it for years without any help and also ran traffic court all on her own. I didn’t hear her bitching. Walk into the courthouse on any giving day and tell me that they are just overwhelmed! I disagree and I can assure you I will not be voting these people back into office. Way to take out money while living the lavish lifestyle. Look at what judges drive and where they live. It is disgusting to see this.

  6. Pogo says:


    Exactly right – anarchy for the 1%, by the 1%. An intelligent and concise summation of crooked rick’s so-called character and career too.

  7. mark191 says:

    And we have people that feel we don’t need any judges. Well tell that to the criminals, the people that break the law in some fashion, the people that are taken to court since they don’t pay their bills, the drunk drivers, the distracted drivers that cause accidents of kill someone, etc.etc.. sure lets just let all of these types of people walk around free and oblivious to any wrong doings.

  8. Algernon says:

    JF, you seem to be uninformed about the need for one more certified county judge in Flagler. The current judge was reported last year to have the heaviest workload of any judge in the state. And the population of the county has grown dramatically too, and with that comes more crime and or disagreements needing to be heard by a qualified judge. Finally, you complained about additional county “judges”. The case presented here is for only one more county judge, which is different from the several circuit judges who serve our county.

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