Budget a mixed bag for courts, PDs, and state attorneys

first_img Budget a mixed bag for courts, PDs, and state attorneys Senior Editor With final budget estimates being received shortly after the 2004 Florida Legislature convened, state court system officials have begun getting preliminary 2004-05 budget figures from the House and Senate.It’s a very mixed picture.Sixth Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer, chair of the Trial Court Budget Commission, said the Senate budget writers have come up with a good budget for circuit and county courts. But the House, she said, has done an outstanding job.Second Circuit Public Defender Nancy Daniels, president of the Florida Public Defender Association, has the opposite sensation. She’s happy with the Senate budget proposal, but the House version makes deep cuts in public defenders’ personnel and due process costs.Second Circuit State Attorney Willie Meggs, president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said the prosecutors are disappointed that none of the $19 million they wanted to improve staff pay is in either House or Senate budgets. “It’s kind of frustrating when they find $1.2 billion dollars [in unexpected state revenues] and they come out with their budgets and the state attorneys of Florida get nothing,” he said.This is a critical budget year for court-related agencies as the legislature complies with the Revision 7 constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998. The amendment requires the state to assume much more funding of the trial court system — including for prosecutors and public defenders — from counties, no later than July 1.The amendment envisioned the legislature would phase in the budget changes, but because of tight fiscal years and other priorities, virtually all of the funding shift has been left until this year.The Trial Court Budget Commission estimated because of Revision 7, the state would have to come up with $170 million to replace county expenditures and to meet the amendment’s goal of having equal services throughout the state.Schaeffer said Gov. Jeb Bush proposed about $103 million extra; the initial Senate draft has about $113.5 million; and the House Budget has $141 million. The main difference between the TCBC request and the House proposal is $28.8 million for additional law clerks for circuit court judges. The courts are willing to concede that while the extra clerks would be nice, it’s not necessarily a strict Revision 7 issue and can be addressed in future years, Schaeffer said.If the budget transition had actually occurred over six years, the governor’s budget is at about year two; the Senate is between year three and four, while the House is at the finished product, she said.“I want to thank Speaker [Johnnie] Byrd, R-Lakeland, Rep. [Bruce] Kyle, R-Ft. Myers [chair of the Appropriations Committee], and Rep. [Joe] Negron, R-Stuart, [chair of the subcommittee that oversees judicial appropriations]. This was put together in that chain of command,” Schaeffer said. “I think those leaders had the vision to understand what the amendment to the constitution said and they did what it said.”The Senate Subcommittee on Article V Implementation and Judiciary did the best it could with the money allocated to it by Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, Schaeffer said. The main difference between the House and Senate budgets, she said, is the Senate has little money for mediation, arbitration, hearing officers and masters, and ensuring equity between services among the various circuits.Daniels said priorities were getting state funding for 132 positions in public defender offices that had been funded by counties and paying for due process costs, which were figured at around $22 million.The Senate budget picks up those county-paid positions and has $22 million for due process, she said. The governor’s budget also picked up the county-paid employees and had $7 million for due process, although officials conceded that number would need to be raised when final figures were in.The House budget, however, has much less money.Daniels said the House has only $14 million for due process costs, which might mean that money would run out before the end of the budget year.Of the 132 county-paid positions, the House fiscal plan envisions only picking up 50 of those posts. Plus it would cut 58 administrative positions — mostly receptionists — and 48 technology support jobs.“That’s 172 less people that we would have on our staffs statewide. That’s not a pretty picture,” Daniels said. “The House budget really cuts us to shreds.”Overall, the Senate budget picks up $38 million in costs from the counties, while the House picks up only $21 million.“At this point, unless there’s substantial movement on the House budget and the [budget] conference brings us some relief in due process and excessive caseload positions and administration and technology, we would be devastated,” Daniels said.Meggs said state attorneys think figures have ranged between $20 and $33 million on the costs the state must pick up from the counties for state attorney operations. The best guess is $22 million and it looks like most of that has been included.What has state attorneys disappointed is their priority package of improvements, which carry a $19 million price tag. That would accomplish three things, Meggs said: Replace $7 million in cuts made because of tight budgets in the wake of 9/11; add $9 million to equalize pay among assistant state attorneys; and provide better pay for support personnel.“What we got in the Senate budget was nothing, and what we got in the House budget was equal to the Senate budget,” he said. “We’re working with them and they tell us they may come up with something.”The pay issue, he said, is to address inequities that resulted from a recent law mandating that new assistant state attorneys be paid at least $36,900. The problem is prosecutors hired in the years before the change are at substantially lower salaries, and even with raises these prosecutors still are not up to $36,900. That means more experienced prosecutors are making less than new hires, and that only adds to the turnover problems brought about by low pay, Meggs said.“We lose people to private practice, we lose our people here in Tallahassee to state government. . . we lose people to the legislature,” he said. “Why can they pay more than we pay to retain good lawyers?”The pay incentives for support staff were for the same reason, Meggs said. Secretaries, investigators, and others have had little but minimal annual raises and often leave for better paying jobs elsewhere.At Bar News deadline, there was no indication when each chamber would take up their final budgets. April 1, 2004 Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Regular News Budget a mixed bag for courts, PDs, and state attorneyslast_img read more

Martin County Woman With Pending COVID-19 Test Arrested for Walking around downtown Stuart

first_imgSTUART, Fla. — Stuart Police arrested a Martin County woman accused of failing to quarantine or isolate herself while waiting to receive the results of her COVID-19 test.Wednesday, police say 38-year-old Melissa Barton was seen walking in downtown Stuart.According to an arrest report, Barton had been active on Facebook discussing her COVID-19 test that she took 11-days before her arrest. The report says according to witnesses, Barton had entered a clothing store and shopped for a brief time and then exited the store, continuing to walk around the downtown area.The report states, “The witnesses expressed grave concern for the safety and health of themselves and others.”Police also wrote that on April 1, Barton posted a video on Facebook just hours prior to making contact with police stating she believed her test would come back positive.“There were about three or four calls that came in. A couple of my detectives got some phone calls from the downtown business people who I guess identified this woman from Facebook. The initial call was the concern she could be COVID positive,” said Stuart Police Chief Joseph Tumminelli.Officers arrested her for disorderly conduct and violation of Governor Ron Desantis’ Executive Order.“This lady left our hands tied and we had to take her to the Martin County Jail,” Chief Tumminelli said.According to the Governor’s Executive Order 20-51, anyone who meets the CDC’s definition of a PUI (Person Under Investigation) is supposed to be isolated or quarantined for a period of 14 days or until the person tests negative for COVID-19.Barton is among the many still waiting for a test result.Her social media indicates she was experiencing symptoms days before she was able to get a test. She told police she no longer had symptoms. Guidance from the Florida Department of Health states that people should begin to quarantine themselves for 14 days beginning on the day they believe they were exposed to the coronavirus.Chief Tumminelli says his officers are not instructed to go looking for arrests, calling this a more extreme case.“The intent is not to arrest. The intent is to educate and ask for the compliance,” Tumminelli said. “But if my officers do come across someone, a group of ten or more, they’re going to tell them hey, practice social distancing. We’re not going to make arrests on that, only in extreme circumstances to where our hands are tied. If I can get somebody to go home who needs to go home, they’ll go home.”Barton was released from jail with an ankle monitor.Court records show she will be confined to her home with the GPS tracking device until she receives a negative test.last_img read more