Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Just How Many Procedural Rules are there anyway?

A recent Florida Bar News article says “there are THOUSANDS of procedural rules” in Florida (I actually sit on the Traffic Court Rules Committee).
This doesn’t count the evidence code, ever-increasing Florida Statutes, and volumes upon volumes of appellate decisional law.  
Here’s the article:
Just how many procedural rules are there, anyway? Stack the books up on a desk, and they’ll stand about six inches thick; closely printed pages of not very big type.
Overall, more than 2,600 pages (the exact number is not clear because one book, with roughly 1,000 pages, isn’t numbered). That does not count roughly 1,400 pages of statutes that accompany family law and traffic law rules. Nor does it count the Code and Rules of Evidence, which is Chapter 90 of Florida Statutes.
Not counting the evidence code, there are nine areas covered by The Florida Bar’s rules committees: civil, judicial administration, small claims, appellate, probate, family law, juvenile, criminal, and traffic. In addition there are rules of civil procedure for the involuntary commitment of sexually violent predators, which are promulgated by a Supreme Court committee.
During a recent meeting of the Florida House Civil Justice Subcommittee, one member asked how many procedural rules there are, specifically asking if there are 200 or 400. He didn’t get an answer.
Actually, there are more than 1,100 procedural rules. And that number doesn’t count subdivisions, which many, if not most, rules have. For example, in the criminal rules, discovery is covered by one rule. But it runs almost 11 printed pages and has several subdivisions. Looked at that way, there are thousands of procedural rules.
Ordinarily not a topic of conversation outside of the Bar’s procedural rules committees, the rules are getting heightened scrutiny because of interest by the Civil Justice Subcommittee. Several members have suggested the Supreme Court’s exclusive jurisdiction over procedural rules should be altered, perhaps with the Legislature having the final say similar to the procedural rule system for federal courts.
The discussions so far have focused on only a handful of court rulings that sparked some debate about whether the court was sticking to procedural rules or wandering into substantive matters, which are the exclusive purview of the Legislature.
Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard told the subcommittee that 435 lawyers sit on the 10 procedural committees that oversee the various rules, and that all the procedural rule committee meetings are open to the public.
“The people who work on these rules are dedicated individuals; they are paid nothing for their work. They have succeeded in creating a set of rules that have worked well for us over the years,” he said.
Some other facts about the procedural rules process:
• Each rules committee must submit proposed amendments to the court on a staggered three-year schedule. Most rules cases filed with the court, though, are outside the three-year process. There is a proposal to reduce that cycle to every other year.
• Rule amendments are publicly noticed and comments are invited from anyone.
• Aside from the regular three-year-cycle report, committees can bring out-of-cycle petitions to the court at any time. This is frequently done in response to new laws passed by the Legislature or a court ruling that affects a rule.
Here’s a quick look at the size of the various rules: There are 159 Rules of Civil Procedure, filling 166 pages (including index, notes, and comments). Rules of Judicial Administration have 41 rules and 107 pages. There are 42 Small Claims Rules in 40 pages, and 48 Rules of Appellate Procedure covering 100 pages. The Florida Evidence Code (F.S. Chap. 90) covers 21 pages. There are 520 pages of Probate Rules for its 109 rules. Family Law Rules win the number and size prize: 333 rules and around 1,000 pages. There are 189 Juvenile Rules in 408 pages. Criminal Rules has 150 rules and 63 pages. Traffic Court Rules squeeze 51 rules into 24 pages.

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