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'One size doesn't fit all' says state legislator on consolidating Florida circuit courts

A trailer is parked in front of a Key Largo Cuban restaurant with a sign on it against a proposal to merge the Monroe and Miami-Dade counties’ judicial circuits.
David Goodhue
Miami Herald
A trailer is parked in front of a Key Largo Cuban restaurant with a sign on it against a proposal to merge the Monroe and Miami-Dade counties’ judicial circuits.

State Rep. James “Jim” Mooney, who represents Florida’s Southernmost district, told WLRN that he doesn’t think the proposal to consolidate circuit courts across the state is a great idea because it may not benefit those who need them the most — constituents.

“I think the districts are so dynamically different [and have] different needs,” said the Republican legislator. “I hate to say it, but [if it’s] not broken you shouldn’t mess with [it].”

In June, House Speaker Paul Renner, urged the state Supreme Court to eliminate and consolidate several of the state’s 20 judicial circuits. Among the judicial circuits that could get scrapped is the 16th, the one that belongs to the Keys.

Renner says it’s about streamlining Florida’s court system and cutting taxpayer costs.

In a statement from his office to WLRN, Renner defended the plan.

“The population in Florida has more than tripled since the last time these districts were reviewed in 1969, and where people live within our state is also very different," he said. "We want to explore what economies of scale are present in large circuits as well as what advantages smaller circuits offer to potentially harness greater efficiencies and cost savings."

Consolidating courts would mean that Miami-Dade and Monroe County circuit courts would merge into one.

Mooney says this is a concern for Monroe because of the distance between both counties and the differences between their judicial processes.

READ MORE:A plan to consolidate the number of Florida circuit courts is getting pushback

“For me, this is about somebody in Key West that may have to go to Miami for a court date or a judge that may have to go to Key West. That's just not a practical application to the process,” he said.

The Keys rely heavily on their natural resources as a main base for their economy, he added, arguing that each county needs representatives who understand them.

Representative James "Jim" Mooney represents Florida's 120th district.
Florida House of Representatives
Representative James "Jim" Mooney represents Florida's 120th district.

For instance, he said, fishing is a major part of tourism in the Florida Keys.

Mooney said catching multiple short snapper fish could get you into some trouble on the island chain—something that might not happen in Miami-Dade County.

“I think it really gets down to every district has their own nuances as how they apply the laws,” he said. “But, you know, one size doesn't fit all. And if the state's going to grow, I'm not even sure consolidating is the way to do it.”

Mooney says he’s heard from state prosecutors who are already facing staffing issues in their offices.

“Every state attorney in the state is short on help. They can't keep their attorneys. So consolidating, I don't think, benefits the constituents. That's my fear,” said Mooney.

The state Supreme Court now has a committee studying the proposal and it will make a recommendation to the Legislature in December.

Helen Acevedo, a freelance producer, is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.
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