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Court officials seek new parking spaces for clerks

The safety of a nearby lot worries some clerks displaced from a garage by federal law officers.

A solution may come soon for parking trouble at the new federal courthouse that is forcing female court clerks to yield their secured spaces to the cars of armed law enforcement officers.

Officials are negotiating with the operators of nearby parking lots to provide spaces at the same rate clerks were paying in the two-story garage east of the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse.

Still, some clerks have concerns about walking alone to off-site lots on dark evenings.

"There's been a problem with cars stolen or broken into, people . . . asking for money," said Carl R. Stewart, the chief clerk of the bankruptcy court, whose staff was asked to give up 20 spaces.

Stewart said his deputy clerks are "upset and somewhat disappointed this is happening."

Forty extra spaces are needed for cars assigned to the FBI; Secret Service; Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau; and probation services.

In this particular courthouse debate, there's apparently little room for appeal. Federal regulations give parking priority to law enforcement vehicles to aid in the speedy apprehension of suspects.

"I didn't write the rules," said Ted Ricketts of the Tampa office of the General Services Administration, which is the landlord to the federal courts.

"What if something were to happen where law enforcement had to get to their cars immediately?"

FBI and ATF officials could not be reached for comment. An agent with the Secret Service declined to comment.

The new arrangements will still be convenient for the displaced clerks, Ricketts said. Security measures will be stepped up to include more patrols and camera surveillance.

"They'll be within half a block of the building . . . probably 50 paces farther," Ricketts said.

Still, not all the clerks are mollified.

"I've been here as late as 9:30 at night waiting for a jury to come back," said Alycia Waller, a deputy clerk assigned to a federal magistrate. "There hasn't always been somebody here to escort us."

Waller said she and other clerks gave up their private parking arrangements when they were offered parking in the new federal garage last year for $65 a month. The garage is accessed by pass code and has an enclosed walkway leading to the courthouse.

"If I had known this was going to be temporary, I would have gone someplace else," Waller said. "I'm not allowed to bring Mace or a gun into the building, even with a permit."