Lawyers file suit in batle over clerk fees
Some of the lawyers who pay the fees charged by court clerks around the state Monday asked the Florida Supreme Court to stop state legislators from using those fees for any purpose other than the operation of the state’s courts.
The petition was filed against the Legislature, Gov. Charlie Crist and members of the Cabinet as well as the association that represents the 67 circuit clerks and a corporation created by the legislature in 2004. The corporation, run by eight of the clerks, oversees the budgets of all clerks.
Veteran Tallahassee lawyers Robert M. Ervin and Davisson F. Dunlap are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by a seven lawyers from various cities in Florida.
One of those lawyers, Sid Matthew of Tallahassee, said the petition is designed to keep lawmakers from taking money that should be used to operate courts and using it to fill other holes in the state budget. Last year legislators took about $80-million from the clerk’s trust fund and used it to build prisons.
Matthew said the suit is not an effort to take sides in an ongoing battle between the state’s judges and clerks. However it could result in the clerks losing control of the money.
Legislators are considering a bill that would take all court fees from the clerks and put it in the hands of court administrators. The clerks, elected in each county, are fighting the move, calling it an attempt to circumvent the Constitution.
Fred Baggett, a Tallahassee lawyer who represents the Florida Association of Court Clerks, said many of the facts cited in the lawsuit are incorrect. Joe Boyd, the lawyer who represents the clerks’ corporation said he doesn’t believe the clerks are doing anything wrong and questioned filing the petition with the state’s highest court first.