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Justice delayed by judge shortage

Reported by: Sam King
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Updated: 1/20 7:31 am
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Local families want justice, but with every tick of the clock, the wait gets longer. Action News discovered there is a shortage of judges across the state. That shortage is keeping accused criminals from getting their day in court, and keeps families of victims waiting for closure.

Action News discovered the shortage of justices compared to the number of court cases is overwhelming the system. There is a new plan to deal with the problem.

Evelyn Chatman's son Kenneth was shot and killed almost three years ago inside a Southside Jacksonville night club. Just this month, she learned the trial for the man accused of killing her son will be delayed again. "You have closure because you've accepted the death of your son, but you don't have closure regarding your trial" Chatman said of the delays.

For cases as serious as murder and as mundane as a traffic violation, delays are common in Florida. Criminal defense attorney Janet Johnson says one reason is that more cases go to trial rather than a pre-trial settlement. "I hope that they can look at other ways to lighten the jury trial load, the caseload," Johnson said. "There are other programs we can put in place that would take some of the burden out."

According to documents obtained from the Florida Supreme Court, the state needs 46 more County Court judges, including four in Duval County. Duval also needs three District Court judges. Duval County Court Chief Judge Donald Moran says he wants even more, but that's a start.

Chatman just wants her son's accused killer to finally get his day in court. "I just keep going day by day, but I keep standing strong until that time comes" Chatman said. "Whether it's this year or next year, I'm still going to sit in here and wait for justice to be done."

The Florida Legislature and Governor Rick Scott must approve the funding for new judges before they can take the bench. The Governor's staff tells Action News he is currently evaluating the needs of the Judicial Branch as he works on a budget proposal.
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