We Must
Reach Further Back


By HEINZ DINTER, PH.D.

A
Lifestyle
Interview

 

 

Heinz Dinter interviewed The Honorable Joseph P. Farina, chief judge of the 11th Circuit comprising Miami-Dade County’s circuit and county courts in Miami, Florida.

A clogged court results in disservice to taxpayers and makes it difficult for judges to give their all.

The overload is severe
In Dade County's circuit court, the caseload for each judge in the civil division is a staggering 1,400 cases; family division judges face an average of 1,200 cases plus emergency domestic violence petitions; the juvenile division number is 1,700 of which 1,200 are delinquency cases and 500 are dependency cases which include abused, neglected and abandoned children (demanding thousands of hearings and spanning years); criminal division judges handle 2,300; and the probate/guardianship division caseload is 1,800. In county court, the civil division case load (including small claims) is 4,400 cases, and in the criminal division (including DUI, domestic violence, and misdemeanor) a judge faces 6,300 cases.

“We have the highest caseloads in the state of Florida,” confirms Judge Farina.

The sheer numbers tell the story — it's an enormous pressure on everyone in the courthouse.

Judge Farina admits, “We face delays trying criminal cases, delays in settling divorces, delays returning children to their parents, delays closing estates.”

The Eleventh Circuit has 108 judges in nine different courthouse facilities around the county. There are over 500 people involved in the court system, judges included. The annual budget is $63 million (which does not include the budgets of the state attorney, public defender, corrections, the clerk of court).

To lead is to plan
As chief judge, the 51-year old jurist leads the way in meeting the challenges of the rising demands facing the courts in Dade County with an aggressive, three-pronged commitment focusing on the following:

·        Increase the court’s budget for key support personnel to help judges carry out judicial duties more efficiently.
·        Be actively involved in the revival of professionalism in Dade County amongst the bar. “A great many lawyers want to do the right thing,” he says. “They are tired of Rambo litigation tactics and are reaching out to the bench to begin a crusade of reviving professionalism.”
·        Create a five-year master plan for the direction of the court system and a 25-year plan to prepare for the year 2020.

Family values are the key
“We judges can do little more without being joined by the reestablishment of family values, the invigoration of the traditional religious institutions, the improvement of the educational system all around us, and following the Golden Rule,” is more than a position statement. It is Judge Farina’s call to arms.

He reflects on the court’s accomplishments in 1995: 25% more jury trials in the Criminal Division; more career criminals were sentenced to mandatory state prison than any other county in Florida; convicted criminals are kept in prison longer than ever before.

The chief judge adds a stern warning: “But society is developing more violent people than ever before and it is going to be worse.”

The demographics paint a grim picture: the juvenile population in Florida in the next five to ten years will grow 40%. That's where the largest increase in violent crime will be found — rape, robbery, murder, burglary, assault.

“We must stop developing this violent person because there are not enough judges, not enough courtrooms, not enough prisons to try, sentence and house the number of bad people our society is creating," Farina continues his warning. “We have to reach further back.”

We must all be role models
“We judges are role models but can be effective only alongside parents, teachers and clergy,” the chief judge is reaching out to the community. “Judges need them; they cannot do it alone,” he adds. “The clergy has tried, the educators have tried. Now everybody is looking to the judges to be the savior.”

The man whose day-to-day job brings him face to face with the cruel reality of life wants all to know, “I am not hopeful that we can be.” Because, he warns, too much is being asked of judges if it is all put at the courthouse steps. Judges need the help of the parent, the clergy, and the teacher for the judicial system to work.

Dade County now has a truancy intervention program where the court and the school system work together to identify those students who are not in school, get them in school as part of a court order, and monitor them.

Dade County has started a boot camp program. With pride in his voice Judge Farina invites, “Go out there to the Dade County Boot Camp and observe the good we do. It's the best in the country.”

The program focuses on many aspects of making the inmates productive members of the community.

“It is not just the four months military yell at them and let them do the push ups so they can be stronger and faster to do more crime later,” Farina emphasizes. “This goes beyond that.”

The juveniles ordered to attend the boot camp are given computer classes; they are getting their GEDs. The boot camp personnel are working with the community college and getting them enrolled; they are working with the unions to get them apprentice jobs; they work with local businesses to find jobs.

The judges know that they have an important role to play but they need help because the court system is only one part of the justice system.

“The justice system is a big umbrella,” the energetic head of the 11th Circuit explains. “The court system is only one rib. The other ribs of that umbrella are the family, the clergy, the school system, the job market, equal opportunity in getting jobs so people feel they are part of the system.”

“The court system is an important part,” the judge adds. “Though we are a sanctioning part, we also try to help mold behavior. Our hope is getting to the young people in kindergarten and in elementary school. That's where our resources must be focused because by the time we see them in the Juvenile Division it's almost too late.”

Judge Farina was elected chief judge of the 11th Circuit of Florida by his colleagues and took office in July 1995. At age ten, the Detroit native moved to Miami with his family, earned his J.D. at the University of Florida, and returned to the magic city — his home for the past 40 years.

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We judges can do little more without being joined by the reestablishment of family values, the invigoration of the traditional religious institutions, the improvement of the educational system all around us, and following the Golden Rule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We must stop developing this violent person because there are not enough judges, not enough courtrooms, not enough prisons to try, sentence and house the number of bad people our society is creating. We have to reach further back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our hope is getting to the young people in kindergarten and in elementary school. That's where our resources must be focused because by the time we see them in the Juvenile Division it's almost too late.