FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND
DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED
from the Circuit Court for Brevard County, Charles J.
Roberts, George T. Paulk and Jeffrey F. Mahl, Judges.
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Rebecca R.
McGuigan, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, for
S. Purdy, Public Defender, and Nancy Ryan, Assistant Public
Defender, Daytona Beach, for Appellees.
State of Florida appeals the circuit court's order
denying its petition for a writ of quo warranto, challenging
the Office of Public Defender's authority to intervene in
civil traffic infraction cases. We treat this matter as a direct
appeal, reverse the circuit court's order, and remand
with instructions to grant the petition.
Grate and Charles Morton were charged in county court with
driving with a revoked license as a habitual traffic
offender. The Office of Public Defender was appointed to
represent them. The assistant public defender assigned to the
cases filed motions in county court to modify the
adjudications of guilt in earlier civil traffic infraction
cases in order to remove a predicate conviction necessary for
habitual traffic offender sanctions. The State moved to
strike each motion to modify, arguing that the Office of
Public Defender had no authority to represent Grate and
Morton in civil traffic infraction matters. The county court
denied the State's motion to strike and modified the
earlier adjudications of guilt to withheld adjudications of
guilt. The State then filed a petition for a writ
of quo warranto in the circuit court, challenging the public
defender's authority to intervene in civil traffic
infraction matters. Quo warranto is the proper means for
inquiring whether a particular individual has improperly
exercised the power or right derived from the state.
Whiley v. Scott, 79 So.3d 702, 707 (Fla. 2011). The
circuit court denied the State's petition, and the matter
is now before us.
considering the merits of the arguments presented, we must
first determine the nature of our review of the circuit
court's decision denying the State's request for a
writ of quo warranto. Review of extraordinary writ
proceedings is permissible by direct appeal or by certiorari
depending on the nature of the petition filed. If the
petition for extraordinary relief is filed in the circuit
court to review an order by a lower tribunal, the resulting
order of the circuit court is reviewable in the district
court of appeal by certiorari and not by appeal. See,
e.g., Fla. R. App. P. 9.030(b)(2)(B) ("The
certiorari jurisdiction of district courts of appeal may be
sought to review . . . final orders of circuit courts acting
in their review capacity."); Sutton v. State,
975 So.2d 1073 (Fla. 2008) (holding prohibition used in
circuit court to review disqualification order by county
court was reviewable by certiorari); Sheley v. Fla.
Parole Comm'n, 720 So.2d 216 (Fla. 1998) (holding
that mandamus used in circuit court to review decision by
parole commission was reviewable by certiorari). However,
when a petition for extraordinary relief initiates a new
civil action in the circuit court and is not used as a method
of reviewing an order of the county court or a local
administrative tribunal, the final order is reviewed by
appeal. See, e.g., Fla. R. App. P. 9.030(b)(1)(A)
("District courts of appeal shall review, by appeal . .
. final orders of trial courts . . . ."); Fla. R. Civ.
P. 1.630 (rule governing extraordinary writs); City of
Miami Beach v. State ex rel. Wood, 56 So.2d 520, 520
(Fla. 1952) (appeal from judgment entered in quo warranto
proceedings); Brock v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Collier
Cty., 21 So.3d 844, 845-46 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009) (reviewing
clerk's appeal from circuit court's granting of quo
warranto). Here, because the petition was a new civil action
in the circuit court and was not appellate in nature, our
review is by appeal.
to the merits, we consider this a matter of statutory
construction subject to de novo review. Citizens Prop.
Ins. Corp. v. Perdido Sun Condo. Ass'n, 164 So.3d
663, 666 (Fla. 2015). "The starting point of statutory
interpretation is the language of the statute itself."
Herrin v. City of Deltona, 121 So.3d 1094, 1097
(Fla. 5th DCA 2013) (citing GTC, Inc. v. Edgar, 967
So.2d 781, 785 (Fla. 2007)). "If statutory language is
clear and unambiguous, 'there is no occasion for
resorting to the rules of statutory interpretation and
construction; the statute must be given its plain and obvious
meaning.'" Id. (quoting A. R. Douglass,
Inc. v. McRainey, 137 So. 157, 159 (Fla. 1931)).
Office of Public Defender was initially created in this state
by statute, and later by an express constitutional provision,
to provide indigent defendants the right of counsel
guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Article V, section 18 of
the Florida Constitution provides that the Office of Public
Defender "shall perform duties prescribed by general
law." This provision grants the Legislature the
authority to delineate the duties to be performed by public
defenders, including the types of cases for which public
defenders can be appointed. Crist v. Fla. Ass'n of
Criminal Def. Lawyers, Inc., 978 So.2d 134, 141 (Fla.
2008). Section 27.51, Florida Statutes (2018), defines the
duties of the Office of Public Defender and generally
provides that public defenders shall represent indigents who
have been charged or arrested for a variety of criminal
offenses that could result in imprisonment and in a limited
number of civil proceedings that threaten their liberty
interests, as well as in all indigent criminal direct
appeals. See, e.g., State ex rel. Smith v.
Jorandby, 498 So.2d 948, 950 (Fla. 1986) (holding
section 27.51 permits representation by public defender only
in circumstances entailing prosecution by state threatening
indigent's liberty interest, including appeals). Thus,
the duties of public defenders, as enumerated in section
27.51, include representation of indigent defendants only in
circumstances that threaten liberty interests, which do not
include civil traffic infraction proceedings. Accord
§ 924.051(9), Fla. Stat. (2018) ("Funds, resources,
or employees of this state or its political subdivisions may
not be used, directly or indirectly, in appellate or
collateral proceedings unless the use is constitutionally or
the lack of statutory authority, it is argued that the Office
of Public Defender can collaterally attack its client's
prior civil traffic infraction adjudication, if, in the
exercise of its professional judgment, it concludes such
representation is necessary to provide effective and complete
representation. We reject that argument, as the court did in
Mann v. State, 937 So.2d 722, 726-29 (Fla. 3d DCA
2006), which concluded that while the public defender's
desire to continue to assist criminal defendants, even after
their convictions have become final after appeal and the
public defender's statutory duty and authority has
terminated, is admirable, to do so would violate
Florida's statutory scheme and deny all other similarly
situated defendants desirous of representation in collateral
proceedings equal protection under the constitutions of the
State of Florida and the United States. Though not precisely
on point, we find further support for our position in the
Florida Supreme Court's holding in State v.
Kilgore, 976 So.2d 1066 (Fla. 2007), that the Office of
Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, an office similar to the
Office of Public Defender, could not represent a capital
defendant in challenging a prior non-capital conviction that
the prosecution intended to use as an aggravating
circumstance in the capital case. Certainly, if publicly
funded counsel cannot collaterally attack a prior conviction
in a death penalty case, we have no difficulty in concluding
that the Office of Public Defender cannot collaterally attack
a prior civil traffic infraction conviction.
these reasons, the circuit court should have granted the
State's petition for quo warranto. Accordingly, we
reverse the circuit court order and remand with instructions
to grant the petition.
and REMANDED ...