Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Appoints Judge Bowman as Circuit’s First Appellate Division Chair

Mar 06, 2020   

The following article was written by Jeffrey J. Molinaro for the March 2020 issue of the Broward County Bar Association’s Barrister Magazine. A full copy of the edition is available here. Mr. Molinaro is a proud member of the Broward County Bar Association.

On January 29, 2020, the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit announced a restructuring of its Appellate Division. As part of this restructuring process, Circuit Judge John Bowman was appointed by Chief Judge Jack Tuter as the division’s first Appellate Chair.

Pursuant to Article V, § 5(b) of the Florida Constitution, the circuit courts of Florida have appellate jurisdiction when provided by general law. The scope of the circuit courts’ appellate jurisdiction is found at § 26.012(1), Florida Statutes. The Appellate Division’s restructuring comes as it braces for a potential increase in appeals as a result of the legislature’s expansion of the County Court’s jurisdictional limit of $15,000 to $30,000, which became effective January 1, 2020.

As currently composed, the Appellate Division hears appeals of County Court decisions in three judge panels. However, circuit judges are neither permanently nor exclusively assigned to the Appellate Division. Instead, circuit judges are appointed to appellate panels on a six-month rotation. Previously, the Circuit relied upon court staff to oversee the Appellate Division. However, due to the potential influx of additional appellate cases, the rotation of appellate panel members, and to ensure consistency within and supervision over the Appellate Division, a permanent judicial chair was created to oversee the division. The appointment of a permanent chair is designed to allow the Court to continue to handle County to Circuit appeals in an efficient manner despite an increase in caseload which might arise.

The Appellate Division’s restructuring comes at a time when County to Circuit appeals have come under increased scrutiny due to the lack of uniformity in the County to Circuit appeals process across the state. Critics of the County to Circuit appeals process have focused on three areas: i) the lack of uniformity in the use of three judge panels instead of single judges to hear such appeals; ii) the fact that not all circuits publish their appellate opinions either online or within Florida Law Weekly; and iii) circuit appellate rulings are not binding on other circuit panels; thus, intra- as well as inter-circuit conflicting decisions occur. (It should be noted that the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit both uses three judge panels and publishes its opinions on its website.)

As a result of these deficiencies, in its 2017 regular-cycle report, the Florida Bar’s Appellate Court Rules Committee proposed amending rule 9.030 (Jurisdiction of Courts) of the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure to require that all circuit courts adopt three judge panels. However, the Florida Supreme Court rejected this proposal. Instead, the Court created a workgroup to research these issues and propose substantive changes if necessary. Ultimately, the workgroup recommended that the legislature pass legislation to strip the circuit courts of jurisdiction over county court appeals and instead have such appeals heard by the District Courts of Appeal. While no legislation is pending, the Florida Supreme Court endorsed the workgroup’s recommendation on November 8, 2019.

A lifelong Broward County resident and graduate of Florida Atlantic University and St. Thomas University School of Law, Judge Bowman was first elected to the Circuit Court in 2002. Judge Bowman currently serves in the Circuit Civil Division. In announcing Judge Bowman’s appointment, Chief Judge Tuter explained that Judge Bowman will serve as chair of the Appellate Division while continuing his full-time civil trial duties. We wish Judge Bowman success in his new endeavor.