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Cannon scales back court reform proposal

Facing backlash from judges, lawyers and senators, House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, on Wednesday eviscerated his own proposal for reforming the states courts. He dropped his suggestions that judges receive 60 percent of votes to remain on the bench and that investigations of judges be made public. He also adjusted a plan to make it easier for the legislature to repeal court rules.

He also altered his proposal for two five-member Supreme Courts, one to handle civil cases and one for criminal. Instead, he wants to keep a single Supreme Court, but expand it from seven to 10 justices, with divisions for criminal and civil cases.

In a news conference announcing the changes, Cannon said he intended the original proposals as a starting point.

"We worked hard to take input from the various stakeholders, members of the bench and the bar, and proceed in a thoughtful,  focused way based on the feedback we've gotten as well as re-examining our own proposals to make them better," he said.

His new concept for the Supreme Court would allow the governor to pick a chief justice for each division from the current judges, and the position of chief justice for the overall court would rotate betwen the two division chiefs every four years. Cannon said the advantage of this new approach means it would be easier to manage such unified functions as administration of the branch and attorney discipline. The new court, he said, would be located in the new First District Court of Appeal building, the so-called "Taj Mahal." 

"The geography and the quality, if you will, of the first DCA courthouse makes that an appropriate place," Cannon said. "They have two court rooms. They have ample room for the 10 justices. It seems like a good fit."

As far as investigations of judges goes, Cannon still wants to increase access by the legislature to those, but not make them available to the general public. That, he said, addresses concerns that ending confidentiality altogether would keep people from lodging complaints against judges because of fears of reprisals.

Cannon also suggested two new court reform proposals. One would expand the ability of the Supreme Court to hear appeals by removing a requirement that cases only go to the high court if there's a direct conflict between two district courts of appeal. He also wants to address funding concerns by providing a minimum court appropriation each year equivalent to 2.25 percent of general revenue. This year's funding equals 1.94 percent of general revenue.

Cannon also wants a proposal that would allow the Senate to confirm the governor's appointments to the Supreme Court.