The Twelfth Judicial Circuit Courts Public Information Office responds to requests for public records, coordinates court observation for the media and public, and provides the community with information on court programs and services.

Public Information

Public Records Requests

A note about court case file documents. The court does not maintain custody of official documents in court case files. Those documents may be obtained from the Clerk of Circuit Court in DeSoto County, Manatee County or Sarasota County.

Rule 2.420 of the Florida Rules of General Practice and Judicial Administration, Public Access to Judicial Records, guides our policies and procedures regarding public records requests. Please submit all requests for public records maintained by the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court in writing to the Public Information Officer, by regular mail to P.O. Box 3000, Bradenton, FL 34206; faxed to (941) 749-3692; or email the Public Information Officer.

Information for Media Representatives

The following policies apply to all proceedings held in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit. Our media policies and procedures are based on Rule 2.450 of the Florida Rules of General Practice and Judicial Administration, and the Twelfth Circuit's administrative orders AO2020-23a.2, and AO2022-10.2. These measures aim to ensure full access to the courthouse without compromising the right of any citizen to a fair and orderly trial and ensure the safety and security of all persons and property. Please note that the presiding judge will strictly enforce these orders.

 AO2020-23a.2 governs electronic and still photography in court proceedings/high profile proceedings; AO2022-10.2 governs the use of a cell phone, laptop, tablet, PDA, texting device, or other electronic equipment in courtrooms

Highlights from the media AOs

  • One still camera, one broadcast camera, and one audio system for radio broadcast are permitted inside courtrooms; additional equipment will be left to the discretion of the presiding judge.
  • If more than one media outlet wants to cover the proceedings, the first one to request access is the designated pool camera. All other pool arrangements must be coordinated between the outlets themselves.
  • There is no photography or recording anywhere in a court facility other than from a designated media room or courtroom.
  • Interviews must take place outside.
  • No photography, recording or broadcasting electronic court proceedings (Zoom hearings).
  • Once court is in session, moving about in the courtroom is prohibited; photographers and camera operators/tripods must remain in a fixed position within a designated area.
  • Setup and breakdown of equipment must be done during breaks or after court has concluded (unless you are in a designated media room).

Courtroom Access, seating & decorum

Unless otherwise specified by the presiding judge or courtroom bailiff, seating in the courtroom for members of the press is on a first-come, first-served basis. Media persons are requested to dress appropriately. Please refrain from chewing gum. Cell phones should be turned off or silenced.

Press Rooms

The Manatee County Judicial Center in Bradenton has dedicated press rooms available to record feeds or monitor proceedings next to Courtrooms 2A, 3A and 4A, 6A and 8A. Please make sure the overhead light in the media room adjacent to a courtroom is turned off while court is in session. An additional media room is on the first floor behind the security checkpoint.

At the Judge Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center in Sarasota the press room is on the first floor inside the Self Help Center/Law Library. From that room, the press can record feeds and monitor proceedings from the designated pool camera positioned in the courtroom.

To access any press room, please email the Public Information Officer.

Public wireless internet access

Free, secure and open wireless internet access is available in court facilities. No authentication is required. Enable WiFi on your device and choose the guest network. More information on public WiFi can be found on our Technology Services webpage.

Judicial Branch Overview

The mission of Florida’s Judicial Branch is to protect liberties, uphold and interpret the law, and provide for the peaceful resolution of disputes. Its vision is that justice will be accessible, fair, effective, responsive, and accountable to everyone.

Court Jurisdiction

There are four levels of courts in the State Courts System, with four areas of jurisdiction. The chief justice of the Supreme Court serves as the judicial branch's chief executive officer. Generally, each level has its own jurisdiction, but many exceptions exist.

  • 1 Supreme Court: The Supreme Court hears death penalty cases, decisions of district court invalidating a provision in the state constitution or statute, bond validations, and public utility cases.
  • 6 District Courts of Appeal: District Courts of Appeal hear all cases that aren’t appealed directly to the supreme court or a circuit court and administrative appeals if provided by law.
  • 20 Judicial Circuits: Circuit Courts hear criminal felonies, family law, civil cases greater than $50,000, probate/guardianship/mental health cases, juvenile dependency and delinquency, and some appeals in certain administrative, noncriminal infraction, and other types of cases.
  • 67 County Courts: County Courts hear criminal misdemeanors, civil cases up to $50,000, small claims cases up to $8,000, and traffic.

How do you become a judge?

A circuit or county judge (trial court judge) are elected to serve a six-year term. If a presiding judge is unable to fulfill the term, the governor appoints a successor from a list of names provided by the Judicial Nominating Commission for that jurisdiction. The newly appointed judge must then run in the next general election to retain the seat. Once elected, the judge will serve a six-year term.

Appellate judges and supreme court justices are appointed by the governor from a list of names provided by the Judicial Nominating Commission for that jurisdiction. They must then face a retention or “yes or no” vote in the next general election. Once they win the retention election, the judge or justice will serve a six-year term.

Each Judicial Nominating Commission consists of nine members, all of whom are appointed by the governor. Four members come from a list of nominees from the Florida Bar and the governor directly appoints the remaining five members. Each member serves a four-year term.

There are no term limits in the State Courts System, but all judges and justices must retire by their 75th birthday.

To be elected or appointed to a judicial seat, an individual must have graduated from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association; must be a member of The Florida Bar; must be a registered voter; and must reside in the geographic area they will represent.

Snapshot of the Twelfth Circuit Bench

There are 32 judges in the circuit and every two years the judges elect a chief judge to oversee the business side of the court.

Judicial breakdown by county
DeSoto County
One circuit judge and one county judge
Manatee County
Eight circuit judges and four county judges
Sarasota County
11 circuit judges and four county judges

Judges are considered generalists and rotate division assignments every two-three years, but the length of the assignment and division of the court may vary.

Court Divisions

Circuit courts have five divisions: Civil, Criminal, Family, Juvenile, and Probate/Guardianship.

Each division has an administrative judge responsible for oversight and case management of his/her division. Additionally, each court location has an administrative judge responsible for handling other judicial issues that may occur at that location.

In Manatee County, two county court judges are assigned to the county criminal division and two county court judges are assigned to the county civil division. In Sarasota County, county court judges preside over both criminal and civil matters.

General magistrates and hearing officers support the family, juvenile dependency, circuit civil, mental health and county civil traffic divisions. Magistrates and hearing officers are managed by the trial court administrator with judicial oversight by the chief judge.

The Role of Court Administration

Court Administration, through the trial court administrator, provides professional staff support to judges and manages the court’s business needs through budgeting and planning. It provides essential court resources such as case management, court reporting, expert witnesses, interpreters, mediation, and information to the public. Lastly, Court Administration oversees policies that enhance court performance by reviewing reports and statistics to move cases efficiently through the court system.

Community & Student Outreach

Studies have shown that confidence and support for the courts is strengthened when people have a greater understanding of the courts' role within the justice system.

Results from a statewide public opinion research project completed by the Florida Supreme Court's Judicial Management Council show:

  • More than half of Florida citizens surveyed (55%) could not name even one of the three branches of government.
  • Only 34% of those surveyed claimed to be at least generally familiar with Florida's court system.
  • Nearly 40% of the survey respondents wanted more information about Florida courts and procedures.

Court Administration has experienced staff eager to inform people of all ages about the third branch of government. We can provide educational opportunities that demonstrate the role, functions and accomplishments of the court which we hope will encourage more engaged, active and conscientious citizens.

Civic Organizations

We have staff available to speak at civic-group events and provide information about the judicial process. Topics include an overview of the court system and details on court programs and services. If you're looking for a speaker for your next group meeting, please email the Public Information Officer.

Visits to Judicial Centers

For students in grades 5-12, court staff can arrange remote speaking events for children and student-leadership groups, bringing to life classroom civics lessons. We can also suggest resource materials for lesson plans. For instance, did you know the Florida Supreme Court has a YouTube channel?

A virtual class visit offers students an overview of the judicial branch, followed by an online tour of the judicial center.

Please email the Public Information Officer to request a visit of the judicial center.

Civics Resources for Kids

justice

Justice Case Files

The National Center for State Courts offers "Justice Case Files" six graphic novels that gives young readers a look at how judges make decisions, how the courts protect the public, and why courts are an important part of a government run by people.

The stories touch on everyday issues: online bullying, overcoming language barriers, and serving as a juror. Download the novels and find lesson plans on NCSC's website.

Learn More
civics

iCivics

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor helped create iCivics and the site has been a go-to online resource for civics information.

Kids can learn civics lessons through games. There are resources for parents, lesson plans and teachers, and tips on how to use iCivics. Games include: Court Quest; Cast Your Vote; Win the White House; Race to Ratify; and Branches of Power

Learn More
Illustration of judge's gavel and a series of 0's and 1's representing digital bytes of information.

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