Orange, Osceola courts backlog will take years to clear, Chief Judge says

ORLANDO, Fla. — Courthouses across Florida are overwhelmed with backlogged cases because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With more than 150 trials on the waiting list, 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge Donald Myers says the current backlog for Orange and Osceola Counties will take another two to three years to clear.

READ: Orange County couple says DCF missed opportunity to unite child with his adopted brothers

“We were unable to complete any jury trials from mid-march until the week of October 25th,” Judge Myers says. “Seven months without any jury trials...that’s a pretty significant impact.”

Criminal trials have since resumed, but more trials continue to be added to the list, making the backlog worse.

Civil trials haven’t taken place since March 2020.

The 9th Circuit has also been under a hiring freeze and the state recently cut three judge positions, compounding the issues.

READ: ‘It’s frustrating’: Legislation making it easier to remove problematic HOAs stalls in Tallahassee

Judge Myers says if those positions would have remained, they could have carried out thousands more proceedings than they actually did.

The State Senate is currently proposing a 3 percent cut in the judicial budget statewide, which would largely lead to cuts in personnel, which Judge Myers says the courts can’t afford now.

“A 3 percent cut to the court system throughout the state is 170, 180 full time employees,” Judge Myers says.

On a positive note, 9th Circuit domestic court cases were able to be completed. They were also able to perform virtual adoptions so families weren’t forced to wait.

READ: ‘A lack of integrity’: Board raises questions about former Orlando police officer’s handling of traffic stop

However, social distancing rules are still causing delays when it comes to jury selection.

The courthouse currently only has three courtrooms big enough to carry out jury selection while adhering to proper social distancing guidelines.

Judge Myers says if those requirements were relaxed, they could move much more quickly getting juries picked and seated.

Shannon Butler,

Shannon joined the Eyewitness News team in 2013.