The State of Florida has a four tier court system:
- Florida Supreme Court
- Florida District Courts
- Florida Circuit Courts
- Florida County Courts
The Florida court system consists of the Florida Supreme Court, district courts of appeal, circuit courts, and county courts. As the name suggests, the Florida Supreme Court is the highest court in the state. Located in Tallahassee, the Florida Supreme Court is composed of seven justices. Five justices must be present in order to conduct business and at least four justices must agree on a decision in each case.
The jurisdiction of the Florida Supreme Court is both mandatory and discretionary. The Florida Supreme Court must hear all judgments imposing the death penalty, district court decisions declaring a state statute or provision of the state constitution invalid, bond validation judgments, and actions of statewide agencies relating to public utilities. The Florida Supreme Court has discretion in hearing decisions of district courts of appeal that expressly declare a state statute valid; questions certified by the district courts of appeal as being of great public importance; or decisions where the district courts are in conflict with one another. The Florida Supreme Court may also issue advisory opinions at the governor's request concerning interpretion of the state constitution regarding the governor's powers and duties.
To become a Florida Supreme Court justice, a person must reside in Florida and have been admitted to The Florida Bar for the preceding 10 years. When there is a vacancy on the court, the governor appoints the next justice from a list of three qualified persons prepared by the state Judicial Nominating Commission. Justices serve for six years, after which they can have their name put on the general election ballot if they wish to remain in office. The court hears oral arguments on the first Monday through Friday of each month, except in July and August.
There are five district courts of appeal in Florida, each covering a geographic district. Judges sit in panels of three and decide appeals from circuit courts in most criminal and civil cases. They also have jurisdiction to decide appeals from county courts when a state statute or provision of the state constitution is held invalid, or for orders or judgments certified to be of great public importance. As a practical matter, the district courts of appeal are the final appellate review of litigated cases. Someone displeased with a district court's decision may seek review in the Florida Supreme Court or in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Most civil and criminal cases in Florida originate at the circuit court level. The circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction, handling such matters as domestic relations, major criminal offenses, probate issues, civil cases involving amounts greater than $15,000, and appeals from county courts.
The county courts, which occupy the lowest rung in the Florida court system, are sometimes referred to as "the peoples' courts," since a large portion of the county courts' work involves citizen disputes like traffic offenses, county and city ordinance violations, less serious criminal offenses and civil cases involving less than $15,000, such as landlord/tenant disputes.
The state of Florida pays the salaries of all judges and their judicial assistants. The state shares with the counties most of the remaining expenses. The facilities for the appellate courts are provided by the state and the counties provide facilities for the trial courts.
Although not part of the federal or state government per se, The Florida Bar should be included in any discussion of the Florida legal system. The Florida Bar is an organization for, and made up by, licensed Florida attorneys. Unlike some states, The Florida Bar is mandatory, which means all licensed attorneys in Florida must become members. The Florida Bar provides a number of services for its membership and programs for the public. Among the public-oriented programs are the Law Related Education Program, which promotes basic legal education in Florida's primary and secondary schools, and the Legal Fee Arbitration Program, which helps attorneys and clients resolve disputes over fees. The Florida Bar also has a Call-A-Law service which provides consumers free access to a collection of recorded messages on such legal topics as divorce, wills, taxes, and landlord/tenant law.
Becoming an attorney in Florida entails passing the Florida Bar examination, in addition to having a degree from an accredited law school and an undergraduate college degree. Presently, there are approximately 52,000 attorneys licensed to practice in Florida.