BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) – After Friday’s public hearing in Tampa, the Judicial Circuit Assessment Committee will continue to consider consolidation of the state’s 20 judicial circuits behind closed doors.
A possible consolidation would see the state’s smaller circuits, like Panama City’s Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, be absorbed into larger, more populous circuits.
The idea was presented by Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, who argued it would make the judicial system more efficient.
“I would submit Florida’s prosecutors are already the most efficient and effective in the nation,” said 14th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Larry Basford.
Others speculate that consolidation is a political effort to keep Democrats out of office.
Political or not, many argue the change would rid small communities of representation.
“Our votes here are diluted and local individuals that may want to become a judge or state attorney or a public defender cannot compete with the votes in Pensacola or Tallahassee,” said Criminal Defense Attorney Waylon Graham.
The committee has 14 members comprised of attorneys, judges, and others from across the state. No member represents the state’s 5 least populated circuits.
Questions have been raised surrounding whether the decision to conduct private meetings violates the state’s Sunshine Laws. The State Court’s Office told News 13 that they disagree, arguing that the committee is not subject to the specific law.
Basford argues that, legal or not, deliberating behind closed doors creates distrust with the public.
“This is a very important decision that affects every Floridian. And I think the committee should be open and transparent about how they are arriving at the decisions they are going to make because this is so important. It affects the entire justice system. In the state of Florida. I’m open and transparent and I think they should be, too,” said Basford.
The committee is slated to present a final report to the Florida Supreme Court on December 1st. The measure would then go to the State Legislature for debate and a final vote.