In March 2022, the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims announced that there would be consolidation of district offices. See Consolidation, Mediation, and Remuneration. Days have morphed into weeks, and the plans for accomplishing the re-districting are becoming more concrete. It is an apt time to provide the workers' compensation community with more detail regarding the process and our progress. To review, the consolidation map is posted in the Regulatory Workers' Compensation blog.
The implementation will begin with counties moving to District Tallahassee. This began last week with Liberty from Panama City (PMC), and will be followed in coming days by Dixie, Gilchrist, and Levy from Gainesville (GNS). All cases in any particular county, "active" and "inactive" will be transitioned and reassigned to a new judge. Thus, the impact of the change may be immediate (an active case), irrelevant (a case settled and closed decades ago), or potential (an inactive case that is merely dormant and which could possibly re-activate for some future petition, motion, or settlement).
The week of May 15, we expect other counties to begin transitioning. This will include Hardy and Highlands Counties transitioning from District Lakeland (LKL) to District Sarasota (SAR). The same week, Hendry and Glades counties and will transition from District West Palm Beach (WPB) to District Fort Myers (FTM), and Indian River, Martin, St. Lucie, and Okeechobee will transition from Port St. Lucie (PSL) and Melbourne (MEL) into West Palm Beach (WPB). Any these moves could cause complications or questions in any particular case. Keep reading.
Obviously, the first transitions will be the simplest. Counties transitioning from District Panama City (PMC) or District Gainesville (GNS) into Tallahassee (TLH) will obviously become the responsibility of Judge Jackie Newman. This one-judge to one-judge transition process should not raise many logistical challenges. As there is only one judge in Tallahassee, this transition has few moving parts. The same can be said for the transitions of Hardy and Highlands from the one judge district in Lakeland to the one judge district in Sarasota (SAR), with all cases becoming the responsibility of Judge Eric Grindal.
The transitions from District West Palm Beach (WPB) to District Fort Myers (FTM) will be somewhat more complex as three judges' assignments in those two counties will be distributed among the two judges in Ft. Myers. This should result in an even distribution of the population of cases in those two counties (Hendry and Glades) to the two judges in the now larger District FTM.
The transition of cases into West Palm Beach will also be somewhat more complex, with various cases from the five counties being re-distributed from Melbourne (MEL) or Port St. Lucie (PSL) amongst the West Palm Beach (WPB) judges and mediators for ongoing responsibility. This should result in a fairly even distribution of the cases from those counties (Indian River, Martin, St. Lucie, and Okeechobee) in West Palm Beach.
This initial process will conclude with the transition of Brevard County from District Melbourne (MEL) into District Daytona (DAY). Again, transitioning from a single-judge district into another single-judge district, this process should be among the least complex.
Similarly, the transition of Polk county from District Lakeland into District Tampa will be relatively simple, but somewhat unique. In transitioning the work related to the largest former District Lakeland (LKL) county (Polk), the least disruptive methodology is for judge Arthur to remain responsible for those Polk county cases as they transition into the larger consolidated District Tampa (TPA). Thus, existing cases will remain assigned to JCC Arthur for the most part. However, following the transition, new filings in Polk county will be randomly assigned to any of the three (then) District Tampa (TPA) judges: Anthony, Arthur, or Massey.
This will leave work ahead regarding the transition of the bulk of District Gainesville (GNS) work (Alachua, Columbia, and Marion). Those transitions will proceed in fiscal 2023 (after July 1, 2022), and transition of the larger District Gainesville (GNS) counties will likely each be similar to the transition process described for District West Palm Beach (WPB), with cases assigned from a single judge district to a rotating assignment in either Jacksonville or Orlando. However, the final plans for the District Gainesville (GNS) transition remain under development and more will be published later as we approach that time.
The primary touchstones for practitioners and parties is to remember that the judge to whom cases are reassigned in this process will be that judge's responsibility thereafter as to any questions or concerns. Requests for information or for relief should go to that judge, and in the consistent and persistent voice of Rule 60Q6.115(1), the appropriate process for seeking relief of any form is through the filing of a motion. All litigants and counsel should remain focused on this tried and true process for alerting any assigned judge to the need for assistance or relief.
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