Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Judge Belvin Perry Jr. warns of courtroom crisis

     Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr., who gained national attention as the judicator for the Casey Anthony murder trial last year, visited the University of Central Florida last Wednesday to speak about the major issues facing our local criminal justice system. The importance of voter turnout and awareness became the key topics of this event, as well as a reminder from Perry to attendees about his upcoming reelection bid on August 10.

     “I’m afraid with the climate we have in our country today and with the cuts the courts around the nation have sustained, that we are on a path of no courts, no justice and no freedom,” said Perry during his address.

     Born and raised in Orlando, as a child Perry was inspired to go into law by occasionally visiting the courtroom with his father Belvin Perry Sr., who was the second ever black police officer hired for the city of Orlando back in 1951. Now as the Chief Judge for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida serving Orange and Osceola County, Perry Jr. manages a $42 million budget, 65 judges, 225 employees and the additional court cases he oversees as a judicator.

     Perry addressed the framing by some media outlets and others in politics that the court system is just another government agency, so they want to diminish the courts to make them less important. There is also talk about retooling the courts to better support public policy and further downsize them to help deal with spending and funding problems.

     This amounts to putting controls and limitations on a separate and co-equal branch of government that directly deals with checks and balances and issues of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

     Florida has the fourth largest populations in the United States, with nearly 19 million residents, and almost one-third of them have had some contact with the court system in the last five years. But in the ratio of judges to population, Florida ranks 45th in the nation.

     Two unnamed felony division judges in Osceola county were mentioned by Perry because they are currently dealing with 250 to 350 cases within a two week trial period. Another local judge is currently secluding cases for people that want to go to trial for September of 2013, which is jeopardizing swift judicial action for individuals, like for insurance claims.

     Only 0.7 percent of the entire state budget is given to Florida’s court system, which has created drastic shortcomings. To keep one courthouse from closing its doors between May and June of last year, the court had to borrow $99 million, which has to be paid back this year.

     Aside from the legal system concerns, other political issues facing student financial aid were  discussed as issues that can bring about higher young voter turnout in the upcoming elections.

     “Bright Futures scholarships are being cut by the state and on the federal level education is also under attack,” said Jordan Allen, Director of Political Affairs for College Democrats at UCF. His group featured this speech as a non-partisan event to inform students about issues with the court system and hear from the notable Chief Judge Perry.

     Perry admits that his life has significantly changed since the trial of Casey Anthony, and he is recognized everywhere he goes in public. On the way to this event he was being followed by two local T.V. news vans and a helicopter, who believed he was heading to weigh in on a high profile case.

By James Tutten

(Photos by James Tutten)


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