State justice lauds circuit for its work on family caseload

Published: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 10:04 p.m.
LAKE CITY - A Florida Supreme Court justice had praise Thursday for how the 3rd Judicial Circuit had carried out an assignment handed down by the state's highest court two years ago.
Barbara J. Pariente made the 3rd Circuit her first stop on a tour of all 20 judicial circuits to evaluate how well the Unified Family Court system is working in each.
In early 2001 the Florida Supreme Court directed every circuit to create "a fully integrated, comprehensive approach to handling all cases involving children and families."
Each circuit was encouraged to develop an approach that would work in their area to resolve family disputes in a "fair, timely, efficient and cost-effective manner."
What Pariente found in the 3rd Circuit was that "truly remarkable things are going on. You have restored some of my faith . . . to hear what you have done with limited resources."
The 3rd Circuit is made up of predominantly rural counties: Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor. All seven counties are assigning each family to one judge or one team of judges for all of their family court cases, said Barbara Ceryak, the spokeswoman for the circuit.
"Once a family comes into the system for whatever reason - dependency, divorce, visitation - we do a related-case-file search," Ceryak said. "Then we can make sure the cases are all in front of the same judge for greater consistency and fewer conflicting rulings."
Although the circuit has been using the approach for only about a year, the local judges who met with Pariente during her daylong visit told her that the adversarial atmosphere in their courtrooms has been defused in many family court cases.
Pariente, a grandmother of six children, said family issues have always been important to her and that she will report back to the rest of the Supreme Court that the agencies in the 3rd Circuit have come up with a "coordinated resolution to complex problems."
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@

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