TAMPA — Private attorneys will soon need to pay $75 for access to a Hillsborough County courthouse entrance they've always used for free — one still free to law enforcement, court employees, members of the State Attorney's and Public Defender's offices and the news media.
The entrance into the courthouse annex building became a hot commodity last month after the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office shut it to the public as part of new security screening.
Now court regulars who want to avoid long lines at the main entrance need to show photo ID.
Court employees already have court access cards. Reporters have their photos on press badges. But private attorneys currently show two IDs: Florida Bar membership cards to prove they're lawyers, and driver's licenses, which show their faces.
Deputies don't want to wait for them to fumble for both.
"People aren't prepared," said Col. Jim Previtera, who oversees courthouse security. "They have to get their wallet out, have to get their driver's license. It kills the intent of getting the line moving."
The answer: a court access photo ID card, issued by the Hillsborough County Bar Association.
The price tag: a $75 check, payable to the association.
"A money-making gimmick," private attorney Anthony Prieto calls it.
Not so, says Ken Turkel, the association's president. The fee covers the costs of employee time and new software and hardware, he said. And it's in line with what the Orange County Bar Association charges. The cards will be good for two years, he said.
Previtera said no deadline has been set for attorneys to get the cards.
Private attorney Rick Terrana doesn't understand why deputies are having a hard time with two forms of ID. He says he has never seen a backup at the annex building entrance.
"Are we to be considered that ignorant that we're incapable of pulling a Bar card and a photo ID out of our pocket?" Terrana asked.
Hillsborough County Chief Judge Manuel Menendez Jr. has heard the complaints. He reminds attorneys that nobody needs to get the card. It's their decision if they want to use the convenient entrance.
But he understands the inconvenience of the alternative and knows that last month, people had to wait outside in the cold. He says he's talking about options to cut down on wait times. They include staggering hearings on the court's morning docket, which now all start around 8:30 a.m., and moving jury selection to a slower day, like Friday.
Terrana recognizes the importance of security, but calls the new screening process overkill.
"They're taking a system that's been in place and worked perfectly well for 20-plus years," he said, "and turning it into an absolute disaster."
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.