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 to all sections of this Code 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 Florida Rules of General Practice and 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 or lawyer 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 party or other person to pass on 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.
Self-Represented or 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
All hearing requests should be made via email to email@example.com. The subject line should read: Hearing Request / Case Number / Case Style. The body of the email should indicate the hearing that is being requested, the amount of time being requested and whether the parties wish to appear in person on remotely.
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 Appearance through Communication Equipment:
The requirements for appearance by telephone are found in Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 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.
Zoom hearings are set with their own link and Meeting ID generated by the Court.
Procedures for Motions for to Withdraw/Substitution of Counsel:
In accordance with Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 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.
Delivery of “Courtesy Copies”:
E-Filing has eliminated the need for courtesy copies with court documents which are E-Filed with sufficient time for the clerk to post them on the website.
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 ARE TO BE SUBMITTED TO THE COURT IN WORD VIA THE FLORIDA E-PORTAL. Copies and envelopes are no longer required.
UNLESS OTHERWISE DIRECTED BY THE COURT, ALL PROPOSED ORDERS IN PROBATE AND GUARDIANSHIP CASES SHOULD BE SUBMITTED TO PROBATE ESERVE AT Oka.Probate.Eserve@FLCourts1.gov.
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, whomever is directed to prepare the proposed Order shall submit one email to the Court with the competing Orders attached for the Court’s review and determination.
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."
Note: Do not send proposed orders to the Judge'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 be submitted as described above.
ALL ORDERS SHALL CONTAIN THE FOLLOWING LANGUAGE ABOVE THE JUDGE’S SIGNATURE BLOCK:
Plaintiff is ordered to serve this Order on all parties as required by Administrative Directive OCAD2016-04.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers, Okaloosa County, Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Final dispositions, settlements and closing reopened cases.
The Florida Rules of Procedure require a final disposition form to 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.
After an action is disposed of, there are many filings which "re-open" the action. 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
To inquire on the status of an order, please check the clerk's website first:
JD Peacock II, Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller
Titles of Motions, Notices and Orders:
Please 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 (DIN#, 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: Guidelines for Professional Conduct
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.