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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Next volley in court v. clerks: a lawsuit



The fund fight between the state’s judges and court clerks will attract a new player on Monday when prominent lawyers from several Florida cities file – what else - but a petition with the Florida Supreme Court.

The lawyers want the court to stop the clerks from turning money over to the state’s General Revenue Fund, forcing lawmakers to appropriate the money only for costs directly related to the court.

The action stems from a 2008 move by the Legislature to take more than $80-million from the clerk’s trust fund to spend on building prisons. The lawyers argue money intended for the courts should not go to house inmates.

The lawsuit will be filed by Tallahassee lawyers W. Dexter Douglass, Sid Matthew and Davisson F. Dunlap Jr.; St Petersburg lawyer Michael T. Callahan; Miami lawyers Joseph P. Milton and Charles H. Baumberger and Orlando lawyer John Edwin Fisher.

The lawyers are taking aim at a corporation formed by the state’s 67 clerks in 2004 to handle all fees collected. Lawmakers have given the clerks the right to make purchases without seeking bids, avoid corporate income taxes and make their own decisions on spending the money they collect. The clerks get to determine how much money they will spend before turning over excess fees to the corporation.

The lawsuit comes as lawmakers consider court sponsored bills that would relieve the clerks of all courtroom duties, turning the responsibility over to court administrators controlled by the judges.

The clerks say it’s a questionable power grab by courts that would circumvent the Florida Constitution and leave many clerks in office with few duties. 

-- Lucy Morgan

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 7:32pm]


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