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Judicial logjam worsens in Florida; more than 1 million court cases backlogged

Backlog grew statewide from 992,000 in September
Palm Beach County Courthouse entrance
Posted at 6:26 AM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 06:31:27-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Despite some courts throughout Florida resuming jury trials, the backlog of pending cases continues to grow statewide, Contact 5 has learned.

Contact 5 reported in September 2020 that there was a statewide backlog of 992,000 cases held up in the courts because of trial restrictions.

According to the Florida Trial Court Budget Commission's latest figures, the judicial logjam has grown to an estimated 1.14 million.

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"Foreclosures, contracts and debt, and all manner of civil cases, we've seen a huge influx of filings in these areas," Palm Beach County Chief Judge Krista Marx said.

Marx told Contact 5 the COVID-19 pandemic has "been a huge adjustment for all of us."

RELATED: Judicial logjam: Civil court expected to make up more than half of pending cases through next summer | COVID-19 causes record drop in revenue for clerks of court throughout Florida

She estimates the case backlog in the 15th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Palm Beach County, is about 67,000 cases.

Marx is trying to ease the backlog by allowing some jury trials with new rules.

"I call them trial trials," Marx told Contact 5.

Attorneys Jason McIntosh and Nelson Baez recently represented a client in one of these "trial trials" -- one of the first civil cases in Palm Beach County with the pandemic rules in play.

"It was definitely different," Baez told Contact 5 in an interview.

Nelson Baez explains to Dave Bohman difficulty of jury trials during pandemic
South Florida attorney Nelson Baez walks Contact 5 investigator Dave Bohman through what it's like to select a jury for trial with coronavirus restrictions in place.

McIntosh told Contact 5 that while some witnesses took the stand, three testified via Zoom.

"There were some of the normal hijinks that you deal with with Zoom, like making sure your microphone is on," McIntosh said.

Baez said the new rules in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 presented unique challenges.

"You're trying to gauge their response to our questions, and now we're restricted to only looking at their eyes," he said. "You can't see their facial expressions."

Marx said despite the positive signs, the backlog still grows.

"We know because of the depressed economic times that there is a deluge coming," Marx said.

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