Court system feeling pinch

Published 3:49 am Monday, January 5, 2004

By By JOHN DILMORE JR. Publisher
Only one month after losing three full-time positions due to state funding cuts, the Escambia County Circuit Clerk's Office is already feeling the crunch brought on by being short-handed.
The circuit clerk's office has typically operated with seven full-time deputy clerks. But state-mandated budget cuts led to the elimination of three of those positions, effective Nov. 28.
That left the office three people short at a time when it would normally have been adding staff -- to compensate for the new workload created when the City of Brewton closed its municipal court, making disposition of city cases the responsibility of the county system.
The short-handedness has already had a noticeable impact on how the circuit clerk's office deals with the public. The office now closes its doors at lunch, whereas it used to stay open and handle walk-in court business.
And the office is also closed to the public earlier than it used to be -- at 4 p.m., rather than 4:30. Clerks continue to work during that extra half hour, dealing with paperwork that is becoming increasingly backed up, Taylor said.
The circuit clerk's office is responsible for compiling and shepherding through the system the paperwork, or pleadings, attached to each case.
As the paperwork slows down, so to does the administration of justice in the county, as the pleadings must be up to date for cases to move forward.
Taylor said his office has already begun falling behind its normal pace of getting civil papers to the sheriff's department, so that deputies may serve them to people involved in court proceedings.
The Nov. 28 cuts are impacting more than just the circuit clerk's office. They have also forced judges to reduce jury expenses, and cost the youth court one staffer. The cuts were made after the State Legislature passed a budget which called for a 10 percent reduction in court costs statewide.
And things may not get better any time soon, given that the Legislature will still be in a cost-cutting frame of mind when it reconvenes in February.
Taylor said he fears for his staff if the courts are hit again.