For the second year in a row, the Florida Supreme Court says Monroe County Court doesn’t need four judges, but isn’t recommending to the state Legislature just yet that one of the positions be eliminated.
In their annual Certification of Need for Additional Judges report dated Nov. 22, the seven justices wrote that based on workloads and other factors, the panel recommends decertifying judges in Monroe, Alachua, Brevard, Charlotte, Collier, Escambia, Leon, Pasco, Polk and Putnam counties.
But the Category 4 Sept. 10 Hurricane Irma that slammed the Keys warrants holding off on decertifying a Keys judgeship for now, the justices wrote.
“With the exception of Monroe County, where we are decertifying only one of the two county court judgeships that could potentially be decertified, the decertification includes counties we monitored last year that continue to demonstrate a negative need for two consecutive review cycles,” they wrote.
But “due to the impact of Hurricane Irma in Key West and the uncertainties related to litigation expected to occur in its aftermath, we will monitor the county court workload in Monroe County for an additional year as that county recovers and stabilizes.”
The justices recommended to the state Legislature last year that Monroe County lose one county judge, but the lawmakers didn’t act on it. County officials were unanimous in their opposition to the Keys having one fewer judge.
County judges are known for presiding over misdemeanor criminal cases. But they also handle divorces, foreclosures, landlord-tenant disputes, traffic cases, small claims and mediation, among other things.
Monroe’s County Court judges are Key West-based Peary Fowler, elected in 2004; Marathon-based Ruth Becker, elected in 1990; and Plantation Key-based Sharon Hamilton, who replaced Reagan Ptomey in January 2017. Ptomey retired and Hamilton defeated an opponent in last year’s primary election.
The fourth judgeship had been held by Wayne Miller of Key West, but he retired in August. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Assistant Monroe County State Attorney Mark Wilson to be Miller’s replacement, but Wilson hasn’t been sworn in yet.
The Keys also have four Circuit Court judges who handle felonies in each geographic area of the Keys.
Larry Kahn: 305-440-3218