Welcome to the overview page for the 20th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.
Originally part of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, consisting of Manatee, Sarasota, DeSoto, Charlotte, Collier, Hendry, Glades and Lee Counties, the Twentieth Judicial Circuit was the last circuit created in Florida. The Twentieth Judicial Circuit consists of Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Each county has its own courthouse and its own circuit and county court divisions.
All legal matters filed in the circuit and county courts are broadly classified as either civil or criminal:
Civil cases are disputes between private citizens, corporations, governmental bodies or other organizations involving the determination of private or civil rights or compensation for the infraction of those rights; for example, actions arising from landlord-tenant disputes, automobile or personal accidents, breach of warranty or consumer goods contract disputes, adoptions, marriage dissolutions (divorce), probate, guardianship, and professional liability suits.
Criminal cases are brought by the government against individuals or corporations accused of committing a crime. The government makes the charge because a crime is considered an act against all society. The state attorney prosecutes the charge against the accused (defendant) on behalf of the government and must prove to the judge or jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There are two classifications of crimes: felonies and misdemeanors. The more serious crimes are felonies, which are punishable by death, imprisonment for more than one year and/or fine. Misdemeanors are punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and/or fine.
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Until 1973, Florida had more different kinds of trial courts than any state except New York. A movement developed in the late 1960s to reform this confusing system. As a result, Florida now has a simple two-tiered trial court system. A temporary exception was the municipal court, which was not abolished until January 1, 1977. Most of these courts in major population areas were abolished on January 1, 1973.
The majority of jury trials in Florida take place before one judge sitting as judge of the circuit court. The circuit courts are sometimes referred to as courts of general jurisdiction, in recognition of the fact that most criminal and civil cases originate at this level.
The Constitution provides that a circuit court shall be established to serve each judicial circuit as determined by the Legislature, of which there are twenty. Within each circuit, there may be any number of judges, depending upon the population and caseload of the particular area.
To be eligible for the office of circuit judge, a person must be an elector of a county within the circuit and must have been admitted to the practice of law in the state for the preceding five years.
Circuit court judges are elected by the voters of the circuits in nonpartisan, contested elections against other persons who choose to qualify as candidates for the position. Circuit court judges serve for six-year terms, and they are subject to the same disciplinary standards and procedures as Supreme Court Justices and district court judges.
A chief judge is chosen from among the circuit judges and county judges in each judicial circuit to carry out administrative responsibilities for all trial courts (both circuit and county courts) within the circuit.
Circuit courts have general trial jurisdiction over matters not assigned by statute to the county courts and hear appeals from county court cases. Thus, circuit courts are simultaneously the highest trial courts and the lowest appellate courts in Florida's judicial system.
The trial jurisdiction of circuit courts includes, among other matters, original jurisdiction over civil disputes involving more than $15,000; controversies involving the estates of decedents, minors, and persons adjudicated as incapacitated; cases relating to juveniles; criminal prosecutions for all felonies; tax disputes; actions to determine the title and boundaries of real property; suits for declaratory judgments that is, to determine the legal rights or responsibilities of parties under the terms of written instruments, laws, or regulations before a dispute arises and leads to litigation; and requests for injunctions to prevent persons or entities from acting in a manner that is asserted to be unlawful.
Lastly, circuit courts are granted the power to issue the extraordinary writs of certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus, and all other writs necessary to the complete exercise of their jurisdiction.
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The Constitution establishes a county court in each of Florida's 67 counties. The number of judges in each county court varies with the population and caseload of the county. To be eligible for the office of county judge, a person must be an elector of the county and must have been a member of The Florida Bar for five years; in counties with a population of 40,000 or less, a person must only be a member of The Florida Bar.
County judges are eligible for assignment to circuit court, and they are frequently assigned as such within the judicial circuit that encompasses their counties.
County judges serve six-year terms, and they are subject to the same disciplinary standards, and to the jurisdiction of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, as all other judicial officers.
The trial jurisdiction of county courts is established by statute. The jurisdiction of county courts extends to civil disputes involving $15,000 or less.
The majority of non-jury trials in Florida take place before one judge sitting as a judge of the county court. The county courts are sometimes referred to as "the people's courts," probably because a large part of the courts' work involves voluminous citizen disputes, such as traffic offenses, less serious criminal matters (misdemeanors), and relatively small monetary disputes.
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For more information about the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, please contact our Public Information Officer, Sara Miles at (239) 533-1723.
Public Information Officer
Phone: (239) 533-1723
Fax: (239) 533-1796
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20th Judicial Circuit of Florida
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Fort Myers, FL 33901
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