Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why blog?

There is so much happening in and to the court system, that I'm finding it tough to figure out how to communicate to our volunteers, supporters & the general public about what we see happening in our judicial system. A friend of mine suggested to me that this might be a good forum, so we'll see how it goes.

My most pressing priority at this time is to relate how deeply concerned I am about the funding cuts we're all facing. The school systems are well organized and have an abundance of PTAs that can make a significant amount of noise about the need to fund education. It's something I'm certain every citizen supports.

Unfortunately, the court systems around the State have not engaged the public to speak out on their behalf. Over the past year, I have seen the felony divisions in Orange County cut the number of prosecutors nearly in half. Where there used to be 5 or 6 assigned to a division (which typically has 600-700 cases), there are now 3 (not including the Sex Crimes Unit prosecutor which handles sex crimes & child victim cases in at least 2 divisions).

I'm not sure why Tallahassee continues to force us to close courtrooms (in fact, there are only 6 out of 12 felony divisions open for business this Friday, 3/27) and cut the staff needed in the State Attorney's Office, the Public Defender's Office, and other areas (interpreters, court reporters, victim advocates, case managers, etc). In future posts I will share some stories about how a lack of interpreters kept someone in jail for several weeks before he could even communicate with his public defender (who didn't have the money to pay for a specialized interpreter). Or the woman that was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a child abuse case who sat in jail because the mental health provider wouldn't accept her since her paperwork didn't show her as being adjudicated guilty! Or the victim of domestic violence who wanted to prosecute her abuser, but learned too late that he had accepted a plea offer without having been asked for her input. There are a lot of compelling cases in our courtrooms every day that do not make the 7am, noon, 5pm, and 11pm newscasts like Casey Anthony does.

The judiciary is the place where perpetrators of crime are supposed to be held accountable for their actions! If a criminal (adult or juvenile) does not face the discipline that our laws call for, they are likely to continue to re-offend and in fact raise the bar on the severity of their offenses. One judge said to me a few months ago that unless something is done soon, he fears the entire system will implode.

If we are to be a world class community (with a performing arts center, new arena, commuter rail, Lake Nona's medical complex, etc), we need to make sure our neighborhoods are safe. The courts are an integral part of providing public safety for our entire community. We all need to contact our legislators to let them know that the court system must be adequately funded.

And who out there really thinks our State needs to give US Sugar over a billion dollars for some swampland?????

Laura S. Williams
Board Chair / Program Director
CourtWatch Florida

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