Navigating the Court System
Most civil and criminal cases in Florida originate at the trial court level. The circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction , handling such matters as domestic relations, major criminal offenses, probate issues, civil cases involving amounts greater than $15,000, and appeals from county courts.
There are five county judges in Leon County, and one in each of the outlying counties. County judges hear all county court matters (misdemeanors, civil suits $15,000. or less, traffic court, tenant evictions, etc.) as well as qualifying jurors and holding first appearances.
Within the circuit courts, there are various programs and activities to enhance their effectiveness in serving the public:
Alternative Dispute Resolution/Mediation: Mediation and dispute resolution programs enable participants to remain the primary decision-makers for their own lives instead of relying on the courts for resolution. Programs are organized based on the needs of the court, the availability of volunteers and the accessibility of funding sources. In the state of Florida there are 8 citizen dispute settlement programs, 54 county mediation programs (serving all 20 circuits), 64 family mediation programs, 13 circuit civil mediation programs, 47 dependency mediation programs, 8 arbitration programs and one appellate mediation program.
Conflict Attorney's: The Registry is used for appointment of attorneys for persons entitled to court-appointed counsel, in cases in which the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel has a conflict of interest.
Court Interpreting Services: The court provides interpreters for all Circuit and County criminal cases, Juvenile Delinquency and Dependency, Domestic and Repeat Violence, Criminal Contempt, Mental Health/Incapacity, and in some Probate and Guardianship cases.
Court Reporting Services: The Court Reporters Office provides the following services for the entire Second Judicial Circuit:
- Official written transcripts in most felony and county criminal proceedings.
- CD's in certain felony and county criminal court as well as various other court proceedings that are digitally recorded by the Court Reporters Office.
Family Courts: These courts handle all cases involving children and families, such as delinquency, dependency, and domestic violence. The courts aim to resolve family disputes in a fair, timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner.
- Juvenile Court: A clearinghouse page of information and resources.
- Teen Court: Teen Court is one of the most utilized diversion programs in Leon County. According to recent statistics, of those juveniles who are offered a non-judicial diversion program, the State Attorney has referred 45% to Teen Court.
Jury Duty: The first day of service is normally limited to jury selection. On occasion, jury selection will be made and the judge immediately will begin the trial. Generally, if selected for a trial, jurors will be released and told when to report back for trial and how many days the trial will last. If not selected, the first day of service will be the only service required...
Mental Health: This court resource serves the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, and the brain injured.
The Mental Health Coordinator (MHC) position is housed in the Second Judicial Circuit’s Office of the Court Administrator and is modeled after the success of the Detention Review Coordinator. The MHC focuses primarily on improving case processes, information availability, and problem resolution for cases involving mentally ill defendants. The program continually identifies areas where improvements can be made to decrease or reduce delays in case processing, thereby decreasing costs of incarceration.
Courthouse Therapy Dogs: The Pet Therapy in Courts Program was launched in 2007, after Susan Wilson, director of research and data for the Second Circuit, read a newspaper story about a victim advocate with a service dog in Polk County who noticed children bonded with her dog.
Stephanie Perkins, volunteer services program coordinator for Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare (TMH) Animal Therapy Program, does her best to match up teams with the right victim/witness. Perkins said she thinks the dogs are especially suited to their new courthouse roles "because they help provide an atmosphere of acceptance and support to the victim. They do not judge, and I feel that is very important to the victims. I certainly only have anecdotal evidence due to the sensitivity of these cases and the victims involved, but I do believe it works."
Self-Help Centers: This court resource provides information for local self-help centers, free and low-cost legal aid, and family law forms for use in dissolution, paternity, child support, name change, and grandparent visitation cases. Self-Help Centers also attempt to connect persons with a civil legal problem who cannot afford to hire a private lawyer to local legal aid organizations which provide free or low-cost legal services to persons with low incomes.
If you live in Leon County the Tallahassee Bar can assist you in finding free or low-cost legal services if you qualify.