By MAYANNE DOWNS, The News Journal October 19, 2010 12:05 AM
Mayanne Downs, an Orlando attorney, is president of the Florida Bar Board of Governors. The Florida Bar joins those who are disturbed by the process by which the new 1st District Court of Appeal building was funded. We support a full review of that process, including an examination of how costs for the building can be further reduced and the space used more efficiently or economically. But this controversy is a dangerous distraction from what is urgently needed in Florida: an adequately funded court system that can resolve disputes in a timely manner. Funding for our state courts should not be confused with granite countertops and big-screen TVs; courts are much more than bricks and mortar. At the core, our courts are people: the judges, the legal representatives, the staff and the citizens who seek justice. Floridians in the throes of family matters like divorce and custody, those who are losing their homes to foreclosure and those who are victims of crime deserve a court system able to meet the needs of all of our state’s nearly 19 million citizens. Budgets have been cut and judges’ pay reduced, but the people in our courts continue to work harder than ever to address growing caseloads. Further delaying access to justice, is the fact that Florida’s number of judges for every 1,000 citizens is substantially below the national average. However, positive strides have been made in the past several years to work toward adequately funding our courts, and we cannot let the current controversy set us back. All of our rights and safeguards depend upon fair and impartial judges with sufficient resources to address all citizens’ cases. Florida businesses are also facing serious delays in having their disputes resolved because of inadequate funding. Floridians must have their day in court in a timely manner with skilled court personnel. While we must scrutinize the process, the new building must not detract from the larger goal of ensuring a judicial system that can meet Florida’s needs. Every Floridian will be at risk if our courts and judges are penalized for the questionable actions of a few. Outrage may be justified, but undercutting court funding is not.