Cuts in clerks’ budgets will cause delays throughout judicial system

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There will be delays in the processing of new court cases and new dockets with a smaller amount of money going to the state’s clerks of courts under the budget passed last month by lawmakers, reports David Royse of the News Service of Florida.

Lawmakers are expected to send the proposed new budget (HB 5001) soon to Gov. Rick Scott, including a 7 percent cut in the budget for the clerks, which comes on top of a more than 15 percent hit the clerks took a couple years ago.

While some activities will take precedence – criminal matters and certain civil cases that have statutory time frames for when things must be processed – clerks say there will be inevitable delays for many people who use the court system, from people in foreclosures, to those seeking a divorce, or those battling over small claims.

“In the first quarter, we could be as much as 10 days behind, and as you go forward you end up at the end of the year some 40 days behind,” said Karen Rushing, clerk of court in Sarasota County.

And some days, there may not be anyone at the court clerk’s office to help you.

“We’re seriously talking about reduced hours,” Rushing said. A number of other clerks say they’re contemplating closing offices early to hit the budget requirement.

Statewide, the hit is just over $30 million.
The previous cuts have already reduced staff, but that’s the largest cost in the system, so that’s where cuts will have to occur to meet the required reduction, said Ken Burke, clerk of court in Pinellas County, and president of the Florida Association of Court Clerks & Comptrollers.

The effects will be broadly felt, Burke said.

“Foreclosures, obviously, will be affected,” Burke said. “Another one that’s going to be especially frustrating is landlord-tenant issues. Normal business litigation, small claims, all those types of (cases) where people are looking to the courts for a remedy.”

Once the Legislature sends the budget to Scott he has 15 days to sign it, but has line item veto power.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.