9 Investigates request for additional 9th Circuit judges

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Calling the existing work schedule not sustainable, the chief judge in Orange and Osceola counties is asking the state to approve four new judges for the 9th Circuit.

In September, Chief Judge Belvin Perry requested three county court judges and one circuit court judge for the 9th Circuit.

"We haven't had any new judges in over seven years," said Perry. "Hopefully some of these positions will be funded."

The request to the state is just that: a request. It is up to the Florida Legislature to approve the judges and allocate the money to pay for the positions and the necessary support staff. In 2012, judges in the 9th Circuit conducted 1,149 civil jury trials and 1,033 criminal jury trials -- some of the highest numbers in the state, according to the 9th Circuit.

"There are more cases going to trial; there are more cases being settled at the last minute," says Perry.

While the overall caseload in the 9th Circuit is slowing the system, it is the civil caseload that is particularly worrisome to both judges and lawyers. At present, scheduling for civil cases is almost a year out.

"It is a very frustrating system at the present time," said civil attorney Howard Marks. "I can tell my client it (may) take anywhere from two to five years to get this thing to a trial."

According to Marks, right now in Orange County, scheduling a 30-minute hearing with a judge in a civil matter can take four months, with hourlong hearings not available until May or June.

Attorneys said the civil backlog is made worse because the laws guaranteeing defendants a speedy trial in criminal cases do not apply to civil.

On Dec. 19, the Florida Supreme Court certified the need for four new judges in the 9th Circuit, sending the request to the state Legislature.

While the 9th Circuit is requesting four new judges, other circuits in central Florida are also asking the state for additional judgeships.

In 5th Circuit, which includes Lake and Marion counties, the court is asking for three circuit court judges and a county court judge for Lake County.

The 7th Circuit, which includes Volusia and Flagler counties, is requesting a circuit court judge and a county court judge for Volusia.