On May 24, 2007, the Governor of Florida signed into law the Act set forth in CS/SB 1088, Ch. 2007-62, Laws of Fla. ("the Act"). The Act provided for the establishment of five Offices of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel (OCCCRCs) which would be responsible for handling a majority of criminal conflict cases as well as certain civil cases on behalf of indigent clients. The Act further provided that the Offices were to be directed by five Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel (CCCRC) which would be appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Pursuant to the Act, the Governor appointed the five CCCRC on August 21, 2007.
On September 11, 2007, the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL) wrote the State Attorney General to assert that the Act was violative of the State Constitution and to request that the Attorney General initiate a petition for writ quo warranto (a means of enforcing a public right) on FACDL's behalf in the Florida Supreme Court. By letter dated September 17, 2007, the Attorney General denied FACDL's request.
On September 20, 2007, FACDL filed suit in the Supreme Court of Florida seeking a writ of quo warranto against the Governor, the Senate, the Secretary of State, and the five CCCRC appointed by the Governor. FACDL alleged that the Act violated the State Constitution in that it effectively established a second-tier of public defenders without satisfying the Constitutional requirements that such defenders (a) be elected and (b) reside in the territorial jurisdiction of the circuit in which they work. Specifically, FACDL noted that, under the Act, each CCCRC (a) would be appointed rather than elected and (b) would reside within the geographic boundaries of the District Court of Appeals rather than each circuit. On these grounds, FACDL requested that the Supreme Court issue a writ of quo warranto (a) declaring the Act void as violative of the Florida Constitution; (b) quashing the Governor's appointments of the five CCCRC under the Act; (c) enjoining the Senate from confirming the five CCCRC; and (d) enjoining the five CCCRC from performing any duties under the Act.
On October 30, 2007, the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in and for Leon County (Judge P. Kevin Davey) issued a writ of quo warranto and directed the Defendants to show cause as to why such relief should not be granted.
After holding a December 19, 2007 hearing, the Circuit Court issued a December 20, 2007 order granting Plaintiff's petition for writ of quo warranto. Concluding that the Act failed to abide by the State Constitution, the Circuit Court granted the requested relief by (a) quashing the Governor's appointments; (b) enjoining the Secretary of State from submitting certificates of appointment to the Senate; (c) enjoining the Senate from confirming the CCCRC; and (d) enjoining the CCCRC from performing their duties under the Act.
On December 20, 2007, the same day that the Circuit Court's order was issued, the Defendants filed their notice of appeal to the First District Court of Appeal. Pursuant to Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.310, an automatic stay of the December 20 order went into effect.
On January 8, 2008, Plaintiff FACDL filed a motion to dissolve the automatic stay. The Circuit Court (Judge Davey) conducted an expedited hearing on the motion on January 9, 2008. On January 11, 2008, the Circuit Court (Judge Davey) issued an order lifting the automatic stay. In issuing this order, the Circuit Court noted that Defendants had not demonstrated a likelihood of prevailing on their appeal and that, absent dissolution of the stay, more taxpayer money could be spent on the constitutionally infirm OCCCRC system created by the Act. The Circuit Court also recognized, however, that immediately lifting the stay could harm the Due Process rights of indigent defendants already being represented by the OCCCRC and could also harm those lawyers and staff who left other employment in order to take positions with the OCCCRC. In light of these competing concerns, the Circuit Court ordered that the OCCCRC be enjoined from continuing to operate with the exception that the OCCCRC could continue to represent clients in criminal appointments made through January 18, 2008 and civil appointments made through January 31, 2008.Vidhya Reddy - 02/04/2008