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State attorneys, public defenders hope for no more budget cuts

Public defenders and state attorneys hope that state lawmakers will show some restrain when cutting the budget as they take up the 2021-2022 fiscal plan. As it stands, the Florida Public Defenders Association and the state’s Prosecuting Attorneys Association hope that the upcoming year doesn’t bring more budget cuts. The goal, according to Eighth Circuit Public Defender Stacy Scott, “is to just not be cut.” They are hoping they will be able to keep the budget they have, which will allow them to retain their current staff and not consider more layoffs.

In a normal year, the various offices may have made budget requests for programs and new hires, but given the challenges mitigating the pandemic has placed on everyone, it’s not a feasible request for the upcoming fiscal year. In the 2020-2021 budget, state offices were forced to lay off or forego filling vacancies at public defender and state attorney offices across Florida.

As we end the first quarter of 2021, last year's challenges seem to have given way to new problems preventing courts from resuming a steady schedule. The backlog of cases will require state offices' attention because pending cases have increased 52% in the 11th Circuit public defender alone. There hasn’t been an increase in case filings driving this increase. The caseload increase is a result of how slowly cases are being cleared. The prosecutors and public defender’s offices cannot handle any additional budget cuts, and they may need an increase to address backlogs as the year progresses.

It’s unlikely that lawmakers will be able to find a solution that saves everyone’s budgets and addresses the $2 billion deficit facing the state. All cases, civil and criminal alike, are experiencing delays, not just because of the backlog. The pandemic made the backlog situation worse, but the situation in many offices, like the public defenders, was already challenging. All state agencies were given a 6% budget cut last year by Gov. DeSantis at the beginning of the Covid-19 economic crisis. Now that we are going into the second quarter of the new year, it’s more pressing than ever to address the severe backlog of cases facing the state.

Additional cuts to state legal budgets will make that even more challenging. State attorneys are concerns about the delay in justice for victims’ families. While it’s true that some Florida courts have resume jury trials, the backlog is still substantial. Back in September, the backlog was already at a staggering 992,000 cases due to budget constraints and trial restrictions. Now, going into the second quarter of 2021, the number of backlogged cases has grown to an estimated 1.4 million, representing a mixture of civil and criminal cases.

While these figures represent a challenge for the state, Senate Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel has warned state agencies that the 2021 budget will be conservative in spending. She did acknowledge and confirm that the committee is aware of agency concerns regarding budget cuts and the growing challenge of tackling the backlog of cases.

With the backlog of cases in Florida, don’t assume you have all the time in the world to prepare your strategy. When it’s your turn to head to court, you want to be ready. Beatriz Zyne, P.A., can help you develop a strategy for your case, so you’re prepared for court. Call us now at (305) 876-6138 to schedule a consultation.