From time to time, I will appear to a scheduled hearing expecting to see the judge assigned to that section of court, and, instead, a retired judge appears.
Florida’s constitution permits the assignment of retired judges. However, it specifies that these assignments are to be temporary. In a 2003 opinion, the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the senior judge system.
However, in a partial dissent, Justice R. Fred Lewis wrote, “In reaching its decision, the majority must engage in a ‘judicial wink’ as it considers the true definition of ‘temporary’.”
In recent times, courts have increasingly relied on senior judges to deal with the backlog of foreclosure cases stemming from the 2008 housing crisis.1
In order to become a senior judge, the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court must approve an application for senior status. It is required that the proposed senior judge must not have been defeated for re-election, nor failed to win a merit retention vote.
Attorney Matt Weidner has a problem with the system of utilization of senior judges.2 Generally, judges are prohibited from serving after age seventy. Yet, many retired judges serve beyond that age. Also, the constitution requires that judges live “in the territorial jurisdiction of the court”. However, senior judges often live in circuits other than where they work.
The utilization of senior judges raises interesting questions. The use of senior judges is indicative of a larger problem—an underfunded judiciary. The Legislature has turned down numerous requests to fund new courts.
1 Sullivan, Dan. “Widespread use of senior judges questioned.” October 28, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/widespread-use-of-senior-judges-in-foreclosure-cases-questioned/2300416