TAMPA — As many as a thousand traffic offenders trying to pay tickets or get court dates crowded the State Attorney's Office on Tuesday, thanks to the Labor Day holiday and last week's Republican National Convention.
Last week, officials barricaded the downtown State Attorney's Office and courthouse during the convention. Many people with traffic tickets didn't visit the alternative site at Floriland Business Center on N Florida Avenue. Then all offices closed for Monday's holiday.
On Tuesday, that created "a perfect storm" for people paying traffic tickets or needing help with other traffic court problems, said Brandi Williams, director of traffic for the Hillsborough County Clerk's Office.
All day, people negotiated two long lines in the lobby of the State Attorney's Office. Each line involved a half-hour wait. Once they made it inside the office, they ran into another 30-minute wait. But at least they got to sit down.
The clerk's office added extra payment windows and provided TV cartoons for kids. Clerks also tried to shorten the lines by pulling people out who didn't need to pay cash. Many of those waiting had reached the end of their payment deadlines and couldn't use the online service.
Everyone who got in line by 4 p.m. was served.
Most people took the wait in stride. "I was surprised by the lines, but it was no big deal," said Carlos Ortiz, who waited an hour and 15 minutes.
Williams said the demand should diminish today, but suggested people who can pay online visit the website www.hillsclerk.com/publicweb/Traffic_Department_FAQ.aspx.
During the convention week, no trials were held and no juries were summoned. Judges either worked at home or at the satellite courthouse in Plant City. Some judges, prosecutors and public defenders were assigned to the Falkenburg Road Jail in anticipation of mass protester arrests, but only two such arrests occurred the entire week.
On Tuesday, everyone was back in place. Hearings and trials resumed at the downtown courthouse. Dockets were full all day, said spokesman Jeff Stidham, "but it wasn't really different from a typical Monday."
Officials expect the next big backup to come after the Thanksgiving holiday.
John Barry can be reached at (813)-226-3383 or [email protected]