Funding cut shrinks office hours for Manatee clerk's office

newsintern@bradenton.comJune 14, 2012 

MANATEE -- Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court R.B. "Chips" Shore announced Wednesday that starting July 2, the clerk's office will be reducing the number of hours it is open to the public because of state budget cuts.

The new office hours will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Currently, the office is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The good news for the public, however, is that much of the legal filing done in the clerk's office, from paying traffic tickets to child support, is available online and can be accessed regardless of office hours.

"It pains me to have to do this, but I hope that our online services will mitigate the impact on our customers that this reduction in hours will have," Shore said.

The change is a direct result of a recent 7 percent statewide budget cut being imposed on Florida's clerks by the state Legislature. After the last round of budget cuts from 2009-2010, the clerk's office was reduced by 24 employees and $1.4 million in funding.

Shore said he is hoping his office will be able to avoid making additional cuts to staff, the remaining members of which have not seen a pay raise in more than five years.

"(They made this cut) without a firm grasp of how the budget reduction to the clerks would affect our courts system," Shore said in a news release.

Employees will continue working until 5 p.m. dealing with court filings.

With this new change in hours, Shore expects to be able to handle all of the criminal cases passed down from the court, but says there is a strong chance that civil cases like divorce and eviction suits will take much longer to address and resolve.

"Luckily, we've been able to move a lot of the criminal cases to electronic filing. One obstacle we still face is a fair number of lawyers and judges still insist on using paper. Once everyone switches over to filing their paperwork electronically, things will run more efficiently," said Shore.

Adam Tebrugge, a Manatee criminal attorney, is one of many local lawyers who has adopted electronic filing practices.

"A few years ago, I wouldn't have been surprised to hear that some legal professionals were hesitant to file online. These days, if someone can use a computer and they aren't filing their paperwork electronically in Manatee, they probably haven't given it a chance. Its just so simple and convenient," Tebrugge said.

Tebrugge said he is able to file about 95 percent of all of his documents electronically, and only files certain unique things like photographs and exhibits of evidence using other methods.

"These cutbacks are just horrible," said Tebrugge, a Democrat running against Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives. "The Manatee Clerk of Court office should be the model for the state of Florida, both online and in person. These people are the backbone of the legal system, and do just a tremendous job."

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