Crowded Courts

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A busy day is not unusual at the Bay County Courthouse, actually, the three Bay County judges currently handle more than 12,000 misdemeanor cases a year, the standard in the state of Florida is closer to 5,000.

Jennifer Wells, the court administrator, has to balance the cases per judge and assure each case gets a courtroom at the proper time.

"Some days there have been very hair-pulling moments in which I'm not sure if I'll have the space available for the hearing and as the caseload goes up, that gets more and more nerve-racking to ensure we always have space available," she says.

Next door to the Courthouse is an overcrowded jail, many making their way through the court system next.

Wells says increased focus by law enforcement is only one factor affecting the crowded courtrooms.

"Our whole case filings have gone up over the last couple years, so whether it’s attributable to the arrests made by law enforcement for meth labs or drug cases, that's hard to put a finger on."

Circuit Court Judge Don T. Sirmons is working the so-called "rocket-docket" this week, handling a couple hundred cases a day, one right after the other.

Judge Sirmons says the case over-load is something they have worked with for the past several years.

"We have always, in our circuit, been one of the highest circuits in the caseloads per judge, so we've always been up there at the top and in terms of our handling cases load, this rocket docket concept has been in existence for a number of years."

And while the Florida Supreme Court has recommended Bay County and the Circuit Court each get one more judge to ease the case load, it has yet to be approved by the Legislature.