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Three top Hillsborough Clerk of Courts workers lose jobs in reorganization

TAMPA — Three high-level employees left the Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts Office Thursday in what its top official is calling a reorganization.

The departures had nothing to do with an ongoing investigation of ticket-handling irregularities in her office, Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank said Friday.

"Absolutely not," Frank added. "There's no connection at all."

One of the employees resigned, while the other two departed after their positions were eliminated. Frank said it was all related to a legislatively mandated technology overhaul of her office, and addressed a need to get people in place who were able to implement it. In each case, Frank said she didn't think the people she had in place could do that.

Frank said she accepted the resignation of Carla Snavely, deputy clerk for court operations, on Thursday. Darlene Leavines, director of quality assurance, and associate courts director Janet Ritchie were told their jobs were being eliminated.

Frank said their duties are being turned over to other employees, some of whom have been elevated by a broader reorganization. The moves also will shave just more than $300,000 in spending that was necessitated by state spending cuts.

Frank said the changes had been contemplated for some time. She noted that she had ongoing talks with Snavely about whether she could oversee the technology overhaul aimed at making the courthouse operations paperless while handling existing duties. Frank indicated that Snavely expressed doubt that she could.

"It's a massive undertaking," Frank, an 81-year-old Democrat who is elected to office, said of the technology overhaul.

Leavines and Ritchie had been working together to fulfill state reporting requirements that help determine how much money the Legislature allocates to Frank's office. They were not able to perform the task, so their duties were turned over to information technology workers in her office, Frank said.

Snavely, 55, worked with the clerk's office and was making $118,082 a year supervising the clerk's 451 court-related employees. Leavines, 57, worked 39 years for the clerk and was making $94,328. Ritchie, 54, had been with the office two years and was paid $55,016.

Attempts to reach them Friday were unsuccessful.

The ticket-fixing investigation began last year after it was discovered that three clerks colluded to help one skip a court appearance, according to records.

Internal investigative documents released this week show Frank's office pressured the clerks to quit and started looking at e-mails from Luis Salas-Farfan, a traffic department clerk who resigned in February.

As part of that review, eight other clerks were suspended. As of Tuesday, six of them had resigned and two others are appealing their termination recommendations.

Salas-Farfan took money from co-workers to pay lawyers to take care of traffic tickets, the documents show. But in many of the cases, it appears no lawyer ever showed up, though the citations were dismissed.

In at least one instance, a hearing officer wrote, Salas-Farfan manipulated the tracking system to get a ticket dismissed.

Salas-Farfan admitted he shouldn't have offered favors to co-workers on county time, notably by connecting them with lawyers he knew. But he denied receiving anything in return. Any money he received went straight to lawyers, he said.

It's not clear from the records what happened to the money paid to Salas-Farfan, which ranged from $100 to $200 per infraction. Frank said the sheriff's investigation would likely explain that.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Three top Hillsborough Clerk of Courts workers lose jobs in reorganization 05/20/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 21, 2011 1:20am]

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