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Web takes the legwork from court files search

Call it the cyber-clerk of courts.

A recently launched Web site, www.myfloridacounty.com, allows people to search the clerks of courts records statewide and order copies of marriage certificates, property deeds and judgments _ all without stepping foot inside a courthouse.

Users just need a computer and a credit card.

"This is an exciting addition to be able to order an official document from anywhere," said Citrus County Clerk of Courts Betty Strifler, who received her first order through the Web site last week from a New York resident seeking a Citrus mortgage deed. "It brings convenience for people who cannot get to the courthouse for whatever reason."

So far, the database includes Citrus and 32 other counties, although eventually information from all 67 counties will be available. The site was created by a Web designer for the Florida Association of Court Clerks.

The Web site features a searchable index of documents dating back two decades, but not images of the records themselves. After finding the description of a document in the database, people can order a copy and have it sent by mail or fax.

The charge is $1 per page, plus postage and a $3.50 administrative fee. Certified copies cost $1 more.

Within a few months, however, Strifler plans to make images of all her records available on the Internet, where they could be viewed or printed free from any computer.

Strifler is working with a private firm to scan the 1.9-million documents that her office has recorded since 1982. She hopes to have them available on her Web site (www.clerk.citrus.fl.us) by July, although a statute passed last year gives clerks until 2006 to go digital.

Residents who need certified copies could still use the www.myfloridacounty.com Web site to order them. People searching for pre-1982 documents will have to do it the old-fashioned way, scrolling through the microfilm rolls at the courthouse.

"Most of our requests are for documents within the past 20 years," Strifler said. "That is what I think most of the businesses need."

Placing the post-1982 documents on the Internet would make them more accessible to the public and save much of the time deputy clerks now spend going through microfilm rolls to find records for residents, Strifler said.

"We think the majority of those requests will go away," Strifler said. "And it will be so much more convenient for a citizen who needs an official record to sit down at their (personal computer) and print a copy from their own printer."

The www.myfloridacounty.com Web site should have two more useful features within the coming year. People who visit the site will be able to pay traffic tickets received anywhere in the state and make child support payments using their credit cards.

The Web site boasts that it is the first "e-government" initiative in the country to offer the official records for the entire state in one place.

_ Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 860-7303 or bhallsptimes.com.

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