In November 2008, you elected me to be your clerk of circuit court and county comptroller. This office was created by Andrew Jackson and solidified in the Constitution of the state of Florida in 1838 to protect the interests of each citizen by safeguarding your court, official and financial records.
This separation of powers ensures the integrity of our court system and avoids conflicts of interest. However, like all our cherished rights and protections, if we are not careful to preserve the public interest, we may lose ground to other pressing initiatives.
Recent legislative activity threatens to tear apart the basic foundation of our state's Constitution and greatly reduce your right to the independent oversight and checks and balances in our court system.
Clerks serve as the public's most direct point of entry and access to the courts and to their own public records. During this legislative session, identical bills were filed in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives that would drastically change the Florida judicial system by moving all court-related duties from the clerks' offices and placing them under the control of the judiciary.
To justify this action, the judiciary has presented numerous inaccuracies relating to the operation and budgets of clerks' offices. Part of my responsibility includes serving as your county auditor, so I am sure you understand why this situation concerns me. I believe we have the best judges in the state here in Pasco, and I have a great deal of respect for Chief Judge Robert Morris. However, you have entrusted me to eliminate opportunities for corruption. We can cite article after article about bad government caused by a lack of proper oversight and accountability in other parts of the state and within the federal system; I do not want that to happen here.
I believe the public is best served by an impartial, objective party collecting fees and fines; accepting case filings; assigning judges; calling jurors; monitoring evidence; and retaining court cases for the statutorily required retention periods.
The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Florida Public Defender Association, the Florida Sheriffs Association, Florida Common Cause, and the Council of Neighborhood Associations believe that the public is best served by the independent oversight provided by clerks, as prescribed by our forefathers in the state Constitution.
While we are encouraged by the changes made Wednesday morning to Senate Bill 2108, we still strongly oppose House Bill 1121. If you agree, please contact your local legislators and register your opposition to House Bill 1121. The guide to elected officials can be found on the Supervisor of Elections Web site, www.pascovotes.com.
Paula S. O'Neil is Pasco Clerk of Circuit Court and County Comptroller.