Benchmarks – March 2019

It’s About Time

Several years ago, I was attending a continuing education course for family law judges. Having just rotated from the civil docket to a family law docket, I recognized there were plenty of differences between the two types of cases. 

One of the instructors—all of which are sitting judges—informed us of his standard practice in pending family law cases to bring the parties to court once every four months so he can learn how the case is progressing. Upon hearing this, I raised my hand and asked what I believed to be a logical question… “What about the Rule of Judicial Administration which provides that family law cases are to be resolved within 180 days of their initial filing?” After an extended (in my opinion) delay, one of the other instructors chimed-in and replied, “I wouldn’t worry about that rule.”

Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.250(a) outlines the presumptively reasonable time periods for completion of cases. Uncontested family law cases are to be resolved within 90 days of filing, and contested cases within 180 days.  For misdemeanor cases, 90 days is determined to be the reasonable time from arrest to final disposition. Felony cases should be resolved within 180 days.

Obtaining a resolution of all cases within the time standards provided by the rule is an extremely optimistic goal. It is for this reason Rule 2.250(a) contains an additional provision which recognizes there are complex cases which may present problems that cause reasonable delays.

One such example of a complex case would be the State of Florida vs. Nicholas Cruz, where the defendant is charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida on February 14, 2018. The judge in Mr. Cruz’s case has set a tentative trial date for September of 2019… 19 months after the defendant’s date of arrest.

The committee assigned to drafting Rule 2.250 was far more generous in assigning time standards for civil cases. Non-jury civil cases are to be resolved within 12 months from date of filing to final disposition. That’s the equivalent of allowing twice the amount of time for a mortgage foreclosure civil case than for an armed robbery criminal case where the defendant has the right to a jury trial. Civil cases where a jury trial has been requested are afforded 18 months within which to be resolved.

Case management is one of the most important tasks assigned to judges. The steady influx of new cases highlights the importance of resolving cases in a timely manner. The image of Lucy and Ethel working at the chocolate factory assembly line often resembles what I believe the clerk’s office does on a daily basis with new cases being filed. It is for this reason that I believe reminding attorneys and parties of the time standards provided by Rule 2.250(a) is certain to pay off… over time.

Judge Steven G. Rogers currently serves as a circuit court judge. He lives in Ocala with his wife, three children and an extremely spoiled Australian Shepherd.

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