Friday, November 07, 2008


The Honorable Judge Kevin Emas,  who was this close to being our next Justice Of the Florida Supreme Court has taken the time to write in in support of Judicial Conferences. This was emailed to us and printed in it's entirety. 

1. Can’t We Cancel a Conference and Save Some Jobs?

The monies used to fund judicial education cannot be used to pay salaries. While the loss of jobs and reduction of the workforce within the judicial system continues to be of great concern to us, canceling a judicial conference would not translate into saving jobs. You may recall that when the budget crisis first emerged, many judges offered to reduce their own salaries or take furloughs in an effort to save people’s jobs. However, this could not be done under the budgetary scheme. The same is true for judicial conferences. The money devoted to judicial education cannot simply be transferred to another budget line to be used for staff positions. This does not mean that the judiciary is not considering ways to more effectively manage judicial education. To the contrary, the County and Circuit Court Conferences, the Supreme Court, the Office of State Courts Administrator and the Florida Court Educational Council (the governing body of judicial education) are actively pursuing alternatives to provide judicial education in a more cost-effective way, including distance learning and webcams.

2. What Exactly is Judicial Education?

Let’s look at Florida judicial education. Judges are required to attend a minimum of 30 hours of continuing judicial education during a three-year reporting period. The most effective way to accomplish this has traditionally been by attending educational conferences. Florida has one of the most highly-regarded judicial education programs in the country, and has become a model for many states. Most states require their judges to attend out-of-state, national programs for their judicial education, at a much higher cost to the state.

Our current education program includes the following:

Florida Judicial College (sometimes called “new judges’ college”): Mandatory course for newly-elected and newly-appointed judges, one week in January (before they take the bench) and a second week in March.

Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies (AJS): A one-week college (currently offered in May each year) that provides intensive training and continuing education in specific areas of the law (e.g., advanced evidence, sentencing issues, legal writing and judicial philosophy, child support and alimony, case management techniques, search and seizure). The courses offered at AJS are primarily advanced courses for more experienced judges, but there are some basic courses offered in all areas (i.e., criminal, civil, family, juvenile). Additionally, this conference includes a 4½ day Handling Capital Cases course which judges must complete before they can preside over a capital case. You will recall that we canceled AJS this year when the budget crisis led to drastic cuts and created uncertainty about future budgeting. As a result, many judges throughout the State will have to wait until 2009 before they can become certified to preside over a capital case.

Education and Business Conferences: Both the Circuit and County Judges in Florida may currently attend two conferences per year (three days each), during which they can attend “tracks” of civil, criminal, family, juvenile and probate courses. Many of these courses are designed as “basic” or “fundamental” courses for new judges or for judges who are rotating into new divisions where they may have little or no background. Other courses are intermediate or advanced, and still others are “update” courses designed to alert judges to changes in the law or new and emerging trends. In addition, Conference business is conducted during the Conferences (committee meetings, election of officers, planning and preparing education courses to be presented the following year, etc.). We are considering whether two conferences per year are necessary given the current economic conditions. 
The annual business conference (summer conference) is required by statute and is paid for through state trust funds.

3. Who Teaches These Courses and How Are They Paid?

Note that most of the courses taught at the Conferences are designed and taught exclusively by judges, who do so without any additional compensation. We plan the programming, train the judges who serve as faculty, research and prepare the written materials and present the course. Anyone who has ever taught a course knows the amount of time, energy and effort that goes into the planning, preparation and presentation of just one course. The average judicial conference offers 25 to 30 different courses for judges to attend. This is a massive undertaking and those who participate in judicial education do so because they know the important role continuing education plays in maintaining confidence in our system of justice.

4. What’s in it for Us Lawyers?

You can’t have it both ways: You want judges who are well-trained, well-educated, who stay current on changes in the law and trends, able to effectively manage burgeoning caseloads, to seamlessly rotate from civil to criminal, from juvenile to family, to understand and apply difficult and often novel legal principles and theories. No judge can know every aspect of the law in the different divisions of the courts. Effective continuing judicial education is a vital component to a sound judiciary. The better trained and educated each judge is, the more confidence you (and the public) will have in the decisions that judge makes.

For those who say: Why can’t you just watch a video? Ask yourself honestly, which is the more effective delivery system for continuing education—watching a video or attending a live conference, where you can speak with the presenter, with other attendees, participate in discussions and breakout groups, ask questions, and clarify issues? This is not to say that videotaped presentations, webcams, videconferencing and other long-distance delivery systems cannot be utilized effectively, depending on a number of factors, including the subject matter, number and location of attendees, available technology, need for interactive discussion, etc. These alternative formats are already being used on a limited basis and likely will see expanded use in the future. But I think we must fairly acknowledge they should not be relied upon to the exclusion of the unique benefits gained at an education conference.

5. OK, But What About Those Luxury Resorts?

In December the Circuit Court Conference will be held at the Downtown Hyatt in Jacksonville. I’m sure it is a nice hotel. I’m not sure I would characterize it as a luxury resort. But that aside, it is true that past conferences have been held at some very nice hotels throughout Florida. However, where we hold our conferences is dictated in large part by two things: a) negotiating a state rate for rooms (currently our contracts with hotels are negotiated at approximately $110 per night for each room); and b) finding a hotel with facilities to hold 700-800 people. To the extent we do have conferences at places which some label as “resorts” it is done within budget, and with the understanding that we must make the conference location attractive enough to convince judges to attend.

No one would deny that there is a social aspect to judicial conferences. Judges are people too (well most of us anyway), and most judges work very hard every day. The conference should provide an opportunity to meet and greet, to get to know their brethren from across the state and to exchange ideas and thoughts about what we do and how we do it, in an effort to improve our system. We also conduct business at the conferences, including election of officers, holding committee meetings, planning future education conferences, approval of the budget, and discussion of pending and impending issues of interest to the entire Conference membership.

The planning of our conferences does not simply happen overnight. Sites are chosen, dates are selected and contracts are negotiated two years in advance. Education programming is discussed and planned and faculty is selected and committed. Time, money and energies are devoted throughout the two-year period to ensure a successful conference. It is not a simple task to simply “cancel” these conferences. Canceling a contract with a hotel weeks or months before the conference can have significant implications financially and in terms of future negotiations with the hotel. We must be especially sensitive to these issues given the already small universe of locations that can accommodate a Conference of our size and at our rate.

4. Conclusion

The judiciary understands that the money we spend on judicial education comes from public coffers. We have not spent it frivolously and will not do so in the future. In these difficult economic times, we are exploring every reasonable method of belt-tightening. We don’t pretend to have all the answers, nor are we suggesting that no changes should be implemented. But please know that we are continuing to ask the difficult questions of ourselves and of our Conferences in search of the most fiscally sound manner to continue delivering high-quality education to our judiciary.


Anonymous said...

Pardon me Judge, but could you please pass the Grey Poupon?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Emas. Do we really want our judges to be any dumber than they are now?

Anonymous said...

If being a judge were such a good job why did shuminer, young, milian,mills-francis, ferrer, thomas scott,etc. quit. furthermore, since crime continues unabated with an average of 200000 cases a year in Miami-Dade between state federal domestic violence etc. it appears as if they have the importance and impact equivalent to an assembly line worker at mcdonald's. next case, can i take your order, oh you want to plead guilyt, fine, jail, next. Obama- please help.

Rumpole said...

If you want that comment about Judges posted, you need to change the names to Judge A or One etc. I understand you used "smith" and "jones" but there are Judge Smith's & Jones and they would not like their names associated with your comments.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand- CLE for lawyers on video tape is OK, but not for judges? Because they can't ask questions? We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at fancy hotels so some Judge can raise their hand and say "stan, I don't get it". ????

Really Kevin, you have lost some litigation skills.

Anonymous said...

I totally disagree with your censorship. it is totally wrong, you know those are names one uses that are not specifically targeting anyone. smith, jones, thomas, brown, johnson, the most common names. post it. i don[t have a copy to change, my comedy is off the top of my head, something you might aspire to, are you envious of the originality and quality and is that why it is censored.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to responde to 5:54's absurd comments......

"If being a judge were such a good job why did shuminer, young, milian,mills-francis, ferrer, thomas scott,etc. quit."

RIDICULOUS. Being a judge is a great job. That's why people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting for these positions. The judges you refer to left to take jobs that provided them with huge salaries, fame or both. You obviously aren't a lawyer. Or, maybe you just don't have a clue.

"furthermore, since crime continues unabated with an average of 200000 cases a year in Miami-Dade between state federal domestic violence etc. it appears as if they have the importance and impact equivalent to an assembly line worker at mcdonald's. next case, can i take your order, oh you want to plead guilyt, fine, jail, next."

LOL. The unacceptable crime rate (though lower than in the past) is precisely why the justice system and judges are so important. Perhaps if we didn't neglect prosecutors and judges while funding the hell out of police officers we would get more done (yes, the police need every penny we can get them. BUT, when the prosecutors and judges can't handle the influx of cases, the cops work isn't worth a whole hell of a lot).


PS----I know someone is going to respond that an unnacceptably large number of prosecutors and judges don't earn the paychecks they receive now. And, as a former prosecutor, I know that's true. However, the majority deserve what they're getting and much more. Regardless, if we paid these folks something akin to what they deserve, we'd surely have a lot easier of a time attracting talent and keeping people motivated.

Anonymous said...

the judge sounds like Ted Stevens justifying the bridge to nowhere. give me a break.when you are laying off court staff and prosecutors and PDo's arent able to hire lawyers this is when you make a law to dip into trust funds like this. sorry but if you all had the will to use the money for staff i am sure the supreme court or someone else could have found a way.
Judge admit it, you see it as one of the perks and you all dont want to give it up. everyone who has gone to a conference as a lawyer knows that the education at the best of conferences is in no way essential but is at best a supplement to what an employee learns on the job. people do more socializing than learning and if this bannana republic state called florida actually gave a crap about public servants (i can say this i was one for many years) they would raise taxes to pay so that public servants are well paid and you all can go on your conferences. but we do live in a pathetic state where the public believes that it shouldnt pay for public services and in such an environment with the budget problems we face, NO ONE should be going on any junkets. you all should find a way to use that money so that you could save someones job.

really you sound like the worst pork barrell politician defending a ridiculous pet project and it is beneath a great jurist like yourself

Anonymous said...

Many lawyers, myself included, attend "conferences" or "seminars" from time to time, ostensibly for the purpose of obtaining CLE and networking. In reality, these normally consist of golf, drinking, carousing, good meals on the client's/firm's dime, etc.

Judicial conferences are no different. Maybe a daylong or two-day regional conference once a year, nothing more. If lawyers can get all of their CLE through videotapes or on the web, no reason why judges can't do the same.

Anonymous said...

High court won’t hear Miami-Dade public defender case

By: Billy Shields

The court said Friday it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, which the 3rd District Court of Appeal forwarded without review last month.

Rumpole said...

Listen 7:06- 1) It's not censorship. This is my blog. I own it.
2) There ARE judges in our own building with the names you used. And I am pretty sure they would not be pleased to have "a comedy bit" published with them receiving "a hand job" from a defendant.
3) Don't quit your day job. You stink as a writer.

Anonymous said...

rumpole and kevin sitting in a tree, k i s s i n g, first comes a brown nose, then comes campaign contribution, then censorship of criticism, then death.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed that Rumpole seems to be a good bit more surly and sarcastic than s/he has been in the past? Perhaps the old "Rumpole" has passed the reins to a new "Rumpole"?

Anonymous said...

1:29............perhaps Rumpole is just sick and tired of having to respond to the same nonsense over and over again.

Frankly, I'm amazed that he is as patient as he is (assuming Rump's a he, of course).


Anonymous said...

Whether you agree or disagree with Emas, you gotta give him props for signing his name on a blog response. That shows character.