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Court Reform

In the first half of the 20th century, Florida was said to have more different kinds of trial courts than any state except New York. A movement developed in the late 1960s to reform this confusing system, culminating in 1973’s amendment of Article V, which imposed a statewide uniformity to the courts.

Prior to this time, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court included: the Circuit Court, the Courts of Record, County Magistrate's Court, County Judge's Courts, Justice of the Peace Courts and Small Claims Court. In addition, each municipality had a Municipal Court where judges often were not required to have a legal education. After Article V of the Constitution was amended, for the most part to be a judge you had to have a legal education. The “good old boy” system was passing away, and there was some resistance to the changes, from law enforcement, attorneys and judges at the time.

The reorganization resulted in a simple two-tiered trial court system consisting of Circuit and County courts within each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits. In the same year, 1973, the Florida Legislature created the Office of the Public Defender, the first statewide public-defender system in the nation.

Judges in the Circuit and County courts are elected by popular vote, but can be appointed by the governor when vacancies arise. The judges in charge of the abolished courts were usually appointed to the position of Circuit Judge.

The population served by the present day Ninth Circuit has grown exponentially since its formation, making it now one of the largest circuit courts in Florida. Despite the loss of counties to other districts, the number of people served by the Ninth in Orange and Osceola counties has swelled to about a million and a half residents. The arrival of Walt Disney World and the other theme parks in the area beginning in the early ’70s certainly added to this growth, and to the growth of the Ninth Circuit. In 1973 there were 3 Circuit Judges in the Ninth. In 2010 that number has grown to more than 60.