This is Civil/Criminal Division 2 in Fort Walton Beach (South End) assigned: Felony Cases, Circuit Civil Cases, Appeals from County Court, Certiorari/Appeals & Habeas Corpus Cases
Circuit Court, Okaloosa County
Okaloosa County Courthouse Annex Extension
1940 Lewis Turner Boulevard
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547
Our legal system is based on the principle that an independent, fair and competent judiciary will interpret and apply the laws that govern us. The role of the judiciary is central to American concepts of justice and the rule of law. Intrinsic… are the precepts that Judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system. The Judge is an arbiter of facts and law for the resolution of disputes and a highly visible symbol of government under the rule of law. (taken from the Preamble to the Code of Judicial Conduct)
The Rules of Judicial Administration encourage the speedy, just and inexpensive resolution of cases, and impose on the trial court the duty to monitor and manage the docket in order to achieve this goal. The following preferences and procedures are intended to facilitate the just, prompt, and cost effective determination of cases, and to encourage courtesy, civility and professionalism in all participants. These preferences are intended to supplement, not supplant, the diverse Florida Rules of Court Procedure, as may apply.
Communicating With Judge Stone's Office About Pending Cases:
Judge Stone is restricted by principles of judicial ethics from communicating about pending or impending cases outside of hearings or documents filed in the court file and served on all parties. This restriction also applies to Judge Stone's judicial assistant, Mrs. Natalie.
Impartiality is the most basic principle of judicial ethics. It means that all parties to a pending case are included in all communications with the court regarding that matter - no party has special or secret access to the Judge.
Communication to the Judge without prior notice to the opponent is “ex parte” and improper except in extreme circumstances and as specifically provided by applicable law. If the litigant does not know of any applicable law permitting a particular ex parte communication it is improper.
Judge Stone will not discuss his cases with any party outside of a hearing. Mrs. Natalie cannot take a message from a litigant or other person to Judge Stone.
Communication with Judge Stone regarding cases assigned to him can take two forms:
1. Written documents filed in the court file and served on all parties; and
2. Hearings (including final hearings and trials).
Mrs. Natalie's responsibility is to schedule hearings and maintain Judge Stone's calendar. Once a motion is filed or the matter is ready to be set for a final hearing or trial, the lawyer or litigant may email Mrs. Natalie to schedule a hearing. Mrs. Natalie may communicate regarding potential dates and times for hearings. Mrs. Natalie is not permitted to engage in discussions regarding disputes pending before Judge Stone with anyone for any purpose.
Since Mrs. Natalie cannot make decisions on disputed matters and cannot communicate to Judge Stone regarding things litigants say about disputed matters, no purpose is served by telling her about disputes.
Neither Judge Stone nor Mrs. Natalie are permitted to give legal advice. “Legal advice” means suggesting things that might be filed, evaluating the sufficiency of information on a form, interpretation of any document, evaluating the conduct of an opposing party or lawyer, and giving an opinion about the likelihood of success of an action in litigation.
Judge Stone decides cases and motions. Judge Stone does not give legal advice.
Mrs. Natalie does not decide cases or motions and does not give legal advice.
Pro se litigants (parties without a lawyer representing them) may find the following resources useful:
Legal Services: Legal Services of North Florida
The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service: The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service - Information for Consumers
The Okaloosa County Law Library: Law Library
Florida Rules of Court Procedure: The Florida Bar Florida Rules of Court Procedure
Hearings: Scheduling, Rescheduling and Cancelling
All hearings must be scheduled/rescheduled via email. Click here for the details for making a hearing request:
Notify Judge's office via email immediately of date, time and case number being cancelled.
Prepare and file notice of cancellation of hearing, if notice of hearing has been filed.
If the hearing is canceled far enough in advance, the JA may be able to “recycle” or make that time available to others. This will ensure good use of judicial resources and result in earlier hearing times overall for everyone.
If the hearing was set by Court Order, it will require the stipulation of both sides and something in writing for the record to document the reason for the cancellation.
Cross-setting or “Piggy-Backing” Hearings:
When a hearing is initially scheduled, the time set aside for the original motion is deemed to be sufficient for that matter only. Adding additional motions is not possible unless there are no objections by opposing counsel/parties to doing so and adequate additional time is available.
Procedures for Telephone Appearance:
The requirements for appearance by telephone are found in Florida Rules of Judicial Administration Rule 2.530 "Communication Equipment."
Most appearances by communication equipment are made under Rule 2.530(c) "Use Only By Requesting Party." No Motion or Order is necessary for appearance by communication equipment for hearings addressed by Rule 2.530(c). However, when making a hearing request or responding to a hearing request (see above) appearance by communication equipment must be clearly stated in the request or response. Objections to appearance by communication equipment must be made when responding to a hearing request to provide the party requesting appearance by communication equipment sufficient time to address the objection. Notices of Hearing must also state who will appear by communication equipment.
Taking of testimony by communication equipment is governed by Rule 2.530(d). Testimony may be by communication equipment only with the consent of all parties or when specifically authorized by law. Notwithstanding the agreement of the parties, the procedure for administering oaths for witnesses giving testimony by communication must be followed or the testimony will not be permitted.
Appearances by communication equipment are made through CourtCall. After a hearing has been confirmed by the JA (see above) please contact CourtCall for information and instructions for making an appearance by communication equipment. You may contact CourtCall here: CourtCall
Procedures for Motions for to Withdraw/Substitution of Counsel:
In accordance with Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, Rule 2.505, written consent of the client must be filed with the Clerk of Court and opposing counsel (if any) must have no objection to the withdrawal/substitution. If the client has not signed consent and/or opposing counsel has an objection to the withdrawal, a hearing is required.
Delivering of “Courtesy Copies”:
E-Filing has eliminated the need for courtesy copies if court documents are E-Filed with sufficient time for the clerk to post them of the website.
Please do not send multiple "courtesy copies" of the same document, the volume of mail and email in and out of the Judge's office each day is considerable. The time necessary for the Judge and JA to sort through duplicates of the same document precludes applying that time to productive activities.
Trial/Hearing Notebooks should be provided within a reasonable timeframe. Do not expect the Court to read an extensive assortment of case law and memoranda the morning of a hearing.
Submitting Proposed Orders
In matters in which the court does not prepare its own orders, the Court will direct a party to prepare an order in accordance with its ruling.
Requirements when submitting proposed orders:
Proposed Orders- All proposed orders must be pre-approved by opposing counsel before forwarding to the Court, and so stated in the cover letter. If there is a disagreement, see below.
Proposed Orders: Disagreements- In the event the parties are unable to reach an agreement as to the form of an order to be provided to the Court, the parties must contact the Judicial Assistant and arrange for a telephone conference with the Judge. This should be done, for the purpose of efficiency, prior to setting any hearings or sending competing proposed orders to the Court.
Judge’s Signature and title of order: Orders that contain only the Judge’s signature on the last page should not be submitted to the Court. Some part of the body of the Order shall accompany the Judge’s signature block. When titling the order, please follow the guidelines under" Titles of Motions, Notices and Orders."
Envelopes: Any documents provided to the Court that require a return of a document to party shall be accompanied by a self-addressed, postage prepaid envelope that also contains the return address of the party submitting the document to the Court. Failure to provide sufficient copies and postage prepaid envelopes may result in the order not being entered or no copies/notice of its entry being provided to the parties.
Note: Do not send proposed orders to the Judge's office or the clerk’s office prior to a hearing. This office does not have the resources necessary to be responsible for receiving, holding and retrieving the proposed orders for a pending hearing. It is preferred that proposed orders either be brought to the hearing or submitted as described above.
In all cases, please route all paperwork through the Clerk’s office. After a quick review the Clerk will then forward the paperwork to the Judge’s office. It is not necessary to send the Clerk’s office copies of an Order and send the Judge’s office the same Order. One (1) Order (with appropriate copies and envelopes) sent to the Clerk’s office alleviates the possibility of multiple copies of the same Order being signed
Final dispositions, settlements and closing reopened cases.
The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure require a final disposition form shall be filed with the clerk by the prevailing party at the time of the filing of the order or judgment which disposes of the action. If the action is settled without a court order or judgment being entered, or dismissed by the parties, the plaintiff or petitioner immediately shall file a final disposition form with the clerk.
When an action is settled and the terms of the settlement provide that the court will retain jurisdiction to enter a final judgment upon failure of the settlement the action should nevertheless be disposed of, without prejudice to enforce the settlement. This may be accomplished by providing an Order adopting the settlement, reserving jurisdiction and disposing of the action. A final disposition form must be provided with the proposed order adopting the settlement. The instructions to the final disposition form provide "(J) Disposed by Judge—a judgment or disposition is reached by the judge in a case that is not dismissed and in which no trial has been held. Includes stipulations by the parties, conditional judgments...and any matter in which a judgment is entered excluding cases disposed of by default…"
After an action is disposed there are many filings which "re-open" the action (e.g. Motions to Compel Fact Information Sheets, Motions for Writs of Possession, Motions for Writs of Garnishment, and Motions to Reschedule Foreclosure Sales). Reopened actions must be closed after the disposition of the matter that re-opened the action. All orders disposing of matters that reopened an action must contain the following, or substantially similar, language: "This disposes of all pending matters. The Clerk is directed to close the action."
The court will return, unexecuted, proposed orders disposing of actions when a final disposition form is not provided with the proposed order. The court will return, unexecuted, proposed orders disposing of matters that re-opened actions when the proposed order does not contain language closing the action.
Checking the Status of Orders
The volume of paper flow into and out of the Judge's office in the course of a day is significant; the JA is not always knowledgeable of what has been received, signed, processed, etc.
Orders received in the Judge’s office are processed in the order in which they are received. Multiple inquiries asking when the Judge is going to sign an Order will not change the placement of the Order in this sequence.
To inquire on the status of an order, please check the clerk's website first:
Don W. Howard, Okaloosa County Clerk of the Circuit Court
It may take a week or two for orders to be docketed and appear on the clerk’s website. If more than two weeks have passed since you submitted an order for the Judge’s review and you do not find it on the clerk’s website, you may write a letter of inquiry to the Judge; please, do not call or email the judicial assistant for a status response.
Titles of Motions, Notices and Orders:
Avoid using just "Order," "Notice," "Motion," etc., the title should describe with particularity the purpose or relief being sought or obtained [Notice of Hearing on Plaintiff's Request for leave to amend; Plaintiff's Motion for leave to amend; Order Granting Plaintiff's Motion for leave to amend; etc.].
Often more than one motion, order, etc. has been filed on the same or similar issue, leading to confusion of which Motion/Notice/Order is intended. The best practice is for the title to reflect such information [Plaintiff's Second Motion for leave to amend ...] and include the date, according to the clerk's website, of filing [Notice of Hearing on Plaintiff's Second Motion for leave to amend (filed 2/22/2222)] thus making clear the purpose or relief being sought or obtained.
CONDUCT AND DEMEANOR
(Excerpts from Guidelines for Professional Conduct. Full text is available here: The Florida Bar- Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism)
These guidelines are from The Florida Bar and intended principally for lawyers. However, the guidance provided, with the exception of obligations exclusive to members of the bar, applies equally to all parties involved with the Courts.
It is expected that in all matters the parties and lawyers will conduct themselves in accord with the all of the Guidelines for Professional Conduct, not only the excerpts herein provided.
The effective administration of justice requires the interaction of many professionals and disciplines, but none is more critical than the role of the lawyer. In fulfilling that role, a lawyer performs many tasks, few of which are easy, most of which are exacting. In the final analysis, a lawyer's duty is always to the client. In striving to fulfill that duty, a lawyer always must be conscious of his or her broader duty to the judicial system that serves both attorney and client. To the judiciary, a lawyer owes candor, diligence, and utmost respect. To the administration of justice, a lawyer unquestionably owes the fundamental duties of personal dignity and professional integrity. Coupled with those duties is a lawyer's duty of courtesy and cooperation with fellow professionals for the efficient administration of our system of justice and the respect of the public it serves.
A lawyer is both an officer of the court and an advocate. As such, the lawyer always should strive to uphold the honor and dignity of the profession, avoid disorder and disruption in the courtroom, and maintain a respectful attitude toward the court.
A lawyer's word should be his or her bond.
A lawyer should adhere strictly to all express promises and agreements with other counsel, whether oral or in writing.
A lawyer should be courteous and civil in all professional dealings with other persons. Lawyers should act in a civil manner regardless of the ill feelings that their clients may have toward others. Lawyers can disagree without being disagreeable. Effective and zealous representation does not require antagonistic or acrimonious behavior. Whether orally or in writing, lawyers should avoid vulgar language, disparaging personal remarks, or acrimony toward other counsel, parties, or witnesses.
Lawyers should require that persons under their supervision conduct themselves with courtesy and civility.
When consistent with their clients' interests, lawyers should cooperate with opposing counsel to avoid litigation and to resolve litigation that already has commenced.
A lawyer must not use any aspect of the litigation process, including discovery and motion practice, as a means of harassment or to unnecessarily prolong litigation or increase litigation expenses.
Trial Conduct and Courtroom Demeanor
A lawyer always should interact with parties, counsel, witnesses, jurors or prospective jurors, court personnel, and judges with courtesy and civility, and should avoid undignified or discourteous conduct that is degrading to the court or the proceedings.
Counsel shall admonish all persons at counsel table that gestures, facial expressions, audible comments, or the like, as manifestations of approval or disapproval during the testimony of witnesses or at any other time, absolutely are prohibited.
During trials and evidentiary hearings, the lawyers mutually should agree to disclose the identities and duration of witnesses anticipated to be called that day and the following day, including depositions to be read, and should cooperate in sharing with opposing counsel all visual aid equipment.
A lawyer should abstain from conduct calculated to detract or divert the fact finder's attention from the relevant facts or otherwise cause the fact finder to reach a decision on an impermissible basis.
A lawyer should not knowingly misstate, distort, or improperly exaggerate any fact or opinion nor permit the lawyer's silence or inaction to mislead anyone.
In appearing in his or her professional capacity before a tribunal, a lawyer should not a. state or allude to any matter that he or she has no reasonable basis to believe is relevant to the case or that will not be supported by admissible evidence; b. ask any question that he or she has no reasonable basis to believe is relevant to the case and that is intended to degrade a witness or other person; c. assert a personal knowledge or opinions concerning the facts in issue, except when testifying as a witness; d. assert a personal opinion concerning the justness of a cause, the credibility of a witness, the culpability of a civil litigant, or the guilt or innocence of an accused, but may argue, on the lawyer's analysis of the evidence, for any position or conclusion with respect to the matters at issue.
A question should not be interrupted by an objection unless the question is patently objectionable or there is a reasonable ground to believe that information is being included that should not be disclosed to the jury.
When a judge already has made a ruling about the inadmissibility of certain evidence, a lawyer should not seek to circumvent the effect of that ruling and get the evidence before the jury by repeated questions relating to the evidence in question, although the lawyer may make a record for later proceedings of the ground for urging the admissibility of the evidence in question. This does not preclude efforts by the lawyer to have the evidence admitted through other, proper means.
A lawyer scrupulously should abstain from all acts, comments, and attitudes calculated to curry favor with any juror, by fawning, flattery, actual or pretended solicitude for the juror's comfort or convenience, or the like.
A lawyer never should attempt to place before a tribunal or jury evidence known to be clearly inadmissible, nor make any remarks or statements intended improperly to influence the outcome of any case.
A lawyer should accede to reasonable requests for waivers of procedural formalities when the client's legitimate interests are not affected adversely.