The Honorable Catherine Brunson has been a Circuit Judge since 1995. During that time she has spent 9 years in the family division during two rotations. Judge Brunson currently serves as chief administrative judge of the 15th Judicial Circuit of Palm Beach. Recently, Judge Brunson spoke with Eddie Stephens about current support issues and the impact of the downturn of the economy on recent Court presentations.
Q: Generally speaking, from your perspective, what has the effect been from the downturn in the economy?
Judge Brunson: Due to the lack of jobs, people seem to have a lot less money available to them and are not meeting their obligations. Because of that we have more enforcement cases than ever.
Q: Have the types of Court presentations changed because of the economy?
Judge Brunson: The current economic situation has caused an influx of pro se litigants. There are more people than ever that either can’t afford or choose not to hire an attorney. Our circuit has a self help center where people can get forms and pay for short consultations, but it does become problematic when these individuals ask the Court for relief and are expected to understand the rules in which to present their issues.
Q: Have you seen many pro se successes?
Judge Brunson: When the parties cooperate, I have seen them continue to reside in a foreclosed home until it is sold. I have seen middle and upper class couples separate very peacefully without attorneys. Money is just money. You either have it, or you don’t.
Q: Have the use of professional experts decreased?
Judge Brunson: I have seen fewer forensic accountants. Attorneys are relying on their clients to value assets and that testimony usually is unsubstantiated. Attorneys have to be very careful to present the appropriate evidence even in the challenging economy.
Q: Any impact of the new child support statute?
Judge Brunson: I haven’t seen people litigate the actual number of overnights… yet. It is helpful when attorneys present proposed final judgments that contain the new required information.
Q: Any advice for family attorneys practicing in these difficult financial times?
Judge Brunson: Good attorneys help cases settle. For those cases that don’t, narrow the issues. The narrower the issue, the easier and more efficient the result with be. This is a stressful job and at times we don’t get along. Even if you don’t get along with the attorney on the other side, PRETEND TO. Clients pick up on the dissention which feeds their desire to fight. This makes trials go longer and adds to the litigation expenses. It is so much easier when attorneys are professional with each other because it tempers the negative feelings the parties may have.
*Originally printed in Florida Bar Family Section Commentator, Spring 2011