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Florida's newest District Court of Appeal is set to be up and running by New Year

Judge Meredith Sasso
Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida
Judge Meredith Sasso

The new Sixth District Court of Appeal will taking over the chambers for the Second District, which has been in Lakeland since 1956. They will be moving down Interstate 4 to Tampa.

State lawmakers have given a deadline of New Year's Day for a new District Court of Appeal to be up and running in Lakeland. It would be the first new appeal court in Florida since 1979.

Judge Meredith Sasso of the Fifth Circuit is in charge of setting up the new Sixth Circuit. She says it's going pretty smoothly.

"We are going to be doing things a little differently at the 'six'," Sasso said. "So it will be a new set of judges with a new set of procedures. But we're going to try to provide that information to practitioners on our website, which should be active soon. And they can check back there for internal operating procedures and administrative orders that might be relevant to their proceedings."

She says nine judges will be transferred to the new district. And it will mean some cases will have to be transferred from the existing appeals courts.

"As of January 1st, all cases that are pending in the Fifth and Second Districts that originate from the 9th, 10th and 20th circuits will automatically transfer to the 6th District," she said. "As far as we know, everything on the technology end looks great. We've been running tests. So knock on wood, it seems like we're in a really strong position."

They're taking over the chambers for the Second District, which has been in Lakeland since 1956. They will be moving down Interstate 4 to Tampa.

Sasso says they're trying to make the transition to the new court as smooth as possible.

"It's an exciting time for us. And we know that there will probably be some bumps in the road within a transition," she said. "We just want to keep an open ear to the practitioners and those that are affected by the change."

It's been more than 40 years since a new appellate court was instituted. Since then, Florida's population has more than doubled. But Sasso doesn't think the increase in their caseloads is on a par with the growth in the number of Floridians.

"Filings and population don't necessarily track. You might think that as populations go up, so do case filings. But we found that's not necessarily the case," she said. "Case filings are kind of their own beast, so to speak. So I think like we did for the last 40 years, we'll continue on track and there is a constitutional process for for keeping up on whether or not there is a need. But we'll see. Maybe it'll be another 40 years."

Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed a Hillsborough County circuit judge and two Orlando-area circuit judges to seats on the new court.

DeSantis tapped Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Jared Smith and Judges Jonathan Mize and Keith White of the 9th Judicial Circuit, which covers Orange and Osceola counties.

Smith and three other candidates for appointment to the new court drew a legal challenge because they did not live in the 6th District’s jurisdiction. But the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a residency requirement “attaches at the time of appointment,” not when candidates are put forward by judicial nominating commissions.

The following information is from the Florida Courts:

The establishment of the new appellate court creates changes to the circuits comprising several existing appellate courts.

Those changes are effective Jan. 1, 2023, upon opening of the 6 th DCA. The composition of the Third and Fourth District Courts of Appeal will remain the same and the composition of the remaining courts will be:

  • The First Appellate District will be composed of the First, Second, Third, Eighth, and Fourteenth Judicial Circuits;
  • The Second Appellate District will be composed of the Sixth, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Judicial Circuits;
  • The Fifth Appellate District will be composed of the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, and Eighteenth Judicial Circuits;
  • The Sixth Appellate District will be composed of the Ninth, Tenth, and Twentieth Judicial Circuits.

More information on circuit courts can be found here: Florida Circuit Courts.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.