There is a little-known tool hidden in the bowels of the Rules of Judicial Administration that may be used to challenge administrative orders issued by circuit court chief judges. This rule allows nearly a direct path to the Florida Supreme Court for review of administrative orders to ensure that changes to court rules and procedures are given the proper level of public input and vetting.
Florida has a three level scheme of rule promulgation for the judicial system, with each level having a different geographical and authoritative scope and a correspondingly different requirement for public vetting. The three levels are: (1) court rules; (2) local rules; and (3) administrative orders.
Court Rules, of course, are statewide rules of practice and procedures applicable to all proceedings, parties and attorneys— such as the Rules of Civil Procedure. Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.120(a). Local Rules are rules for circuit or county courts that fill in the interstices of the court rules and otherwise implement the intent of those rules as necessitated by local conditions. Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.120(b)(1). Importantly, they cannot conflict with court rules and they must address a local problem, rather than statewide, problem.
Administrative Orders of circuit court chief judges occupy the lowest rung. They are directives necessary to properly administer the court’s affairs, but not inconsistent with court rules (and presumably local rules). Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.120(c). The Supreme Court local rules committee has said that administrative orders are appropriate for “housekeeping chores” such as creating specialized divisions, assigning judges to divisions, assigning clerks or court deputies to particular judges, regulating the use of courtrooms, and the like.
Proposed changes or additions to the court rules require considerable public input and debate before they may be adopted. Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.140. The adoption of local rules – at least those proposed by a majority of judges in a circuit – is somewhat less rigorous, but still require input from the local bar or “any other interested person” before they may even be submitted to the Supreme Court for approval. Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.215(e)(1). Appropriate committees of The Florida Bar and the Supreme Court local rules advisory committee are also expected to weigh in.
Administrative orders, however, require no public vetting and may simply be signed into existence by the chief judge. The rules, therefore, provide a means to ensure that they do not intrude upon matters that were reserved for court rules and local rules (and do not circumvent the vetting associated with them). Rule 2.215(e) (2) permits any attorney or judge to request an opinion from the local rules advisory committee as to whether an administrative order exceeds the intended scope of such orders. The committee will report its opinion to the Supreme Court, which will then act on that recommendation, including, if necessary, quashing the order.
This review of administrative orders is an important check on the powers granted circuit chief judges. Strangely, however, the rules grant this direct route of review only to judges and attorneys. Given the large numbers of pro se litigants coursing through our judicial system and who are thus subject to such orders (not to mention the right of every citizen to participate in the process of legislating the government decrees they must live by), the rules should be amended to remove the requirement that one must possess a law license to invoke this vital review process.