In Lewis v. Leon County, No. SC09-1698 (Fla. Sept. 22, 2011), the Florida Supreme Court decided that section 19 of chapter 2007-62, Laws of Florida, unconstitutionally shifted the state’s responsibility for funding certain costs of court-appointed counsel from the state to the counties in violation of Article V, section 14 of the Florida Constitution. In 2007, the Legislature enacted chapter 2007-62, Laws of Florida, which created a new system of court-appointed counsel to represent indigent defendants, primarily in cases in which the public defender has a conflict of interest. Crist v. Fla. Ass’n of Criminal Def. Lawyers, 978 So. 2d 134, 137 (Fla. 2008). Offices of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel (the “RCC”) were established under this new system. The RCC consists of five offices located within the geographic boundaries of each of the five district courts of appeal. The Act required courts to appoint counsel from the RCC when the public defender has a conflict of interest.
Section 19 of the Act amended section 29.008, Florida Statutes, to include the RCC within the term “public defenders’ offices.” As a result, the Legislature made Article V, section 14(c) of the Florida Constitution applicable to the RCC and “effectively mandated that counties pay certain constitutionally-defined costs to house the offices of both the public defender and the RCC.” Lewis v. Leon County, 15 So. 3d 777, 779 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009). The Court concluded that the plain language of Article V, section 14 provides that the responsibility for funding the RCC belongs to the State. The Court stated that the constitutional provision approved by the voters only required the counties to pay overhead costs for the offices enumerated in the provision, which did not include the RCC. The Court also likened the RCC to private court-appointed counsel, rather than to the public defenders’ offices. Consequently, the Court held that RCC counsel are not public defenders and do not perform the constitutional duties of public defenders. Finally, the Court noted that by redefining through a statute what entities are included in the offices listed in section 14(c), the statute effectively amended the constitution without voter approval.