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Florida: Legislature's Attempt to Shift Overhead Costs of Appointed Counsel for Indigents from State to Counties Deemed Unconstitutional

The Florida Supreme Court has held that section 19 of chapter 2007-62, Laws of Florida, impermissibly shifts responsibility for funding overhead costs of court-appointed counsel from the state to the counties, in violation of article V, section 14 of the Florida Constitution.

In 2007, the Florida Legislature enacted chapter 2007-62 (the "Act"), which in pertinent part (1) created a new system of court-appointed counsel for representing indigent defendants, primarily in those cases where the public defender has a conflict of interest; (2) established the Offices of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel (the "RCC"); (3) requires courts to appoint counsel from the RCC when the public defender has a conflict of interest; and (4) mandated that counties pay the costs to house the offices of both the public defender and the RCC.

Florida counties sued for declaratory relief, arguing that, insofar as it requires counties to shoulder some of the RCC costs, section 19 of the Act was unconstitutional. Both the trial court and the First District Court of Appeal agreed.

The State appealed. The Florida Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts that the plain language of article V, section 14 of the Florida Constitution, which was adopted by the electorate in 1998 and became fully effectuated in 2004, places sole responsibility for funding the RCC with the state. Because it effectively attempted to amend the constitution without voter approval, section 19 of the Act was held to be invalid. See: Lewis v. Leon County, 73 So.3d 151 (Fla. 2011).

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Related legal case

Lewis v. Leon County