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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Judges and clerks face off about court fees



   LARGO -- It was a pair of a pair of dueling press conferences. Chief Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Robert Morris invited the media to the Criminal Courts Complex for a discussion of legislative issues today, and defended a proposal that would transfer many duties of the county clerks offices to the court system. Having gotten wind of the event, the clerks from Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties made themselves available in the Criminal Courts Complex immediately afterward for a counter-argument.

   Morris said it only makes sense for the state to take a good hard look at the current system, in which clerks manage court records, and collect numerous fees for everything from traffic tickets to filing lawsuits. He said his understanding is that the clerks take in $550-million statewide, even after they have disbursed fees they are required to send to various other government agencies. Meanwhile, it only costs $430 million to run the entire state court system.

   "In these times when money is short, every dime should be looked at," Morris said.

   Clerks Ken Burke, Paula O'Neil and Karen Nicolai, of Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, said essentially that every dime is being looked at. They said they have plenty of outside audits to make sure they are spending their money properly. And they said elected clerks are responsive to citizens, and driven to look for efficiencies wherever they can. Transferring the duties to judges would not improve that, and may even be contrary to the Florida Constitution, they said.

  "It's not well thought-out," Burke said of the proposal now wending its way through the legislative system.

   -- Curtis Krueger


[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:47am]


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