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Court clerks funding case continues in capital

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

A lawsuit over how the state funds its clerks of court is still trudging along in Tallahassee, court dockets show.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers set a case management conference for Sept. 7, after lawyers for plaintiff Howard Forman alerted the court of possible “additional or substituted parties.”

Forman, a Democrat and former state senator, was Broward County Clerk of Court when he filed the suit last May; he since retired and was replaced by his wife, Brenda Forman, elected last November.

“Because the pleadings are going to be amended, it is not appropriate to set a trial date at this time,” Gievers wrote.

Lawmakers this year made several changes to the way clerks get money from the state, including removing the Joint Legislative Budget Commission from being able to review and approve such funding.

Forman’s suit seeks a ruling that “funding of the offices of the clerks of the circuit and county courts performing court-related functions” are unconstitutional.

Florida’s court clerks have long complained about what they consider underfunding by the state. They have responded by shrinking staff and reducing their office hours.

The state’s clerks collectively take in more than $1 billion yearly in filing fees and other court costs but had gotten back less than half of that for operations, even as Florida has rebounded from the Great Recession.

His lawsuit says the defendants are wrongly allowing filing fees collected by the clerks to be diverted into general revenue and various trust funds “for purposes other than for funding of the offices of the clerks.”

But among other changes OK’d by the Legislature this year includes one that “requir(es) certain filing fees for trial and appellate proceedings be deposited into clerks … funds, rather than into the General Revenue Fund.”

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission, Department of Revenue, and the Department of Financial Services previously lost a motion to dismiss the case.

Forman filed on behalf of himself. The statewide Florida Clerks & Comptrollers Association is not a party to the suit.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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