Florida Circuit Court Judges Hon. Rodney Smith and Hon. Rodolfo Ruiz have been nominated for lifetime appointment to the Federal District Courts. Both recently cleared the U.S. Senate Judicial Committee and are now waiting to be confirmed by the Senate. But how experienced are these judges in different areas of litigation? What are the implications of a breakdown of their circuit court caseloads to the way they might rule if elevated Federal District Courts? And how can litigators get detailed knowledge of their judge’s experience, tendencies and preferences to better serve their clients? (hint: use Gavelytics)
Florida real property litigation
According to a September 2018 article, Miami is “still the worst city for renters in the U.S.” Indeed, South Florida has the highest percentage of cost-burdened renter households (62.7%) in the country, meaning these households paid more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Households that struggle to pay rent often experience disputes with their landlords.
Because Miami is such fertile ground for landlord-tenant disputes, many South Florida circuit court judges can be expected to have extensive experience in handling such litigation¹. Of course, this does not mean that such judges are equally as experienced in other areas of litigation, such as employment. Gavelytics subscribers are able to review state court judges’ caseloads to gauge a judge’s experience level with certain case types or legal issues, and can use such information to better prepare for litigation in front of that judge in state court.
So how do these two judges compare with respect to their experience in real property and employment matters? And what can a litigator do with this and other types of actionable data found in Gavelytics?
Governor Rick Scott appointed Judge Rodney Smith to the circuit court in 2012. Prior to his appointment as a circuit court judge, Judge Smith served as a judge of the Miami-Dade County Court. Below is a breakdown of Judge Smith’s caseload since 2011.
< Fig. 1: Rodney Smith Case Types >
The Gavelytics database shows that Judge Smith has presided over 2400 cases, with 40% in real property and a mere 1% in employment. Prior to his appointment to the circuit court, Judge Smith heard 400 cases in the county court, with 54% in real property and 1% in employment.
The data show that Judge Smith has consistently had a sizable real property case docket and can thus be expected to be familiar with real property issues common in South Florida. Accordingly, a litigator trying a real property matter before Judge Smith could tailor their case strategy and arguments with the knowledge that Judge Smith is highly experienced in this area. Similarly, Gavelytics users would also learn that Judge Smith is far less experienced with employment matters. Knowing this, a litigator could tailor her brief or oral argument to the judge’s experience level by, inter alia, more carefully walking the court through the applicable legal standard or selecting the more experienced litigator to conduct the hearing. This knowledge can all be shared with the client, thus improving communication and better managing client expectations. Gavelytics users can also search rulings issued by hundreds of state court judges, to see what case law and arguments judges find persuasive.
Governor Rick Scott appointed Judge Rodolfo Ruiz to the circuit court in 2015. Previously, Judge Ruiz became a county court judge in 2012. Below is a breakdown of Judge Ruiz’s caseload since 2012.
< Fig. 2: Rodolfo Ruiz Case Types >
Gavelytics’ database returns over 1600 cases for Judge Ruiz, with 28% in real property and only 1% in employment. Prior to his appointment to circuit court, Judge Ruiz heard about 300 cases as a county judge, with 37% in real property and 1% in employment.
Judge Ruiz has a substantial amount of experience hearing real property matters, though materially less than Judge Smith. As to employment, however, Judge Ruiz is just like Judge Smith–quite inexperienced as a percentage of his caseload. Again, gaining this knowledge through Gavelytics provides a significant advantage to litigators before these judges. Judge Ruiz, if elevated to the Federal District Courts, can be expected to be far less experienced with employment matters than he is with real property matters, and sophisticated litigators with Gavelytics should leverage this knowledge to their client’s benefit.
Analysis of Judge Smith’s and Judge Ruiz’s circuit court caseloads show that both are rather experienced with real property matters and far less experienced with employment matters. Both judges should be expected to act accordingly if elevated to the Federal District Courts. Insights like this from Gavelytics help litigators tailor their case to the judge and better manage client communications and expectations.
Of course, Gavelytics goes far beyond caseload analysis and can generate deep insights in motion practice, bench trials and more. For example, Florida litigators handling landlord/tenant disputes can use Gavelytics to analyze a judge’s record on real property cases and see whether a judge favors plaintiffs or defendants in such cases. Gavelytics can also inform how many of these cases went to trial, how often a judge grants dozens of types of motion compared to the county average, generate comparisons across different case types and judges, and more.
To find out more information about Gavelytics and how our AI-powered state court analytics platform can benefit your litigation practice, please schedule a demo.
¹ Florida’s trial court is comprised of county courts and circuit courts. The Florida Constitution establishes that there is one county court per county. Circuit courts hear matters not assigned by statute to the county courts, and also hear appeals from county court cases.