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Florida High Court Hears Fewer Oral Arguments

The seven justices of the Florida Supreme Court have heard fewer oral arguments over the past two years, but with a skin tight budget, a court spokesman said it is unlikely the court could handle a bigger workload.

From June 2004 through May 2005, the court heard 118 arguments. The next two years, it heard 127 and 148. BUT over the past two years, it has dropped to 122 each year.

The reason, said Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters, is primarily that the court has developed policies to send cases back to lower courts, particularly when factual aspects are brought into question.

The number of oral arguments does not include the court's entire workload, however. Much of the court's work includes writing orders that dismiss cases or send them to lower courts and, of course, writing opinions. The number of orders written per year is often more than 2,000.

But with budget cuts, Waters said it is unlikely that the court could take on more cases. Because of cuts over the past few years, the court system has lost 280 jobs. And unlike the lower courts, the Supreme Court cannot add judges or senior judges to help handle the caseload and therefore has had to distribute some work that it may have earlier considered.

“Of course we can't get any more staff right now,” Waters said.

The Supreme Court caseload has actually dramatically decreased over the last 25 years.

In the late 1970s, the court's workload had reached uncontrollable levels. In 1978, the caseload of the Supreme Court had reached 2,740 cases. The court responded by forming a special commission to make recommendations to address the problem.

The result was a series of suggestions that would shift several areas of jurisdiction to the district courts of appeal and to limit appeals to the Supreme Court. These recommendations were placed on the ballot and adopted by the voters in April 1980.

The court has released its calendar for next month and will be hearing 14 cases. In 2000, the June calendar included 18 cases.

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