Clerks now able to electronically file restraining orders

MANATEE -- More than 100 people every month file a temporary injunction for protection against someone in Manatee County.

Until recently, it took at least 24 hours and sometimes several days due to holidays and weekends, for a judge to sign and the Manatee County Sheriff's Office to serve a respondent with the documents, commonly known as restraining orders.

But all that has changed.

On Thursday, with all the technical kinks worked out, an employee at the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court typed an approved restraining order into the new Courthouse Information Processing System, also known as CHIPS, and the order was instantly downloaded into a computer system in a sheriff's deputies' patrol car, who then proceeded to serve the papers.

"From 24 hours, it drops to an hour at most," said R.B. "Chips" Shore, Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller. "This is something I have wanted for a long time. I know we have had situations in the

past where a person who had filed for protection was confronted by the person before the restraining order could be served."

Before CHIPS, a petition for protection that wassigned by a judge had to be picked up at the historicManatee County Courthouse by courier and taken tothe sheriff's office before it could be handed out to a deputy, said Melanie McKeever, supervisor of violence protection for the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court.

"This absolutely could save a life," said McKeever, who directs the office where desperate male and female victims, many with their small children in tow, pour their hearts out behind closed doors as they explain their fears.

The process still requires the order to be signed by a judge before it can be downloaded to a deputy, but 14 judges are now willing to sign electronically, which helps reduce the time even more, Shore said.

And, as part of the new effort, a judge and a clerk are now available on Saturdays to process restraining orders, Shore said.

"If a restraining order is filed Friday night or Saturday it can still be done quickly," Shore said. "If it filed Sunday it will go out Monday."

In the past, petitioners often carried their restraining order petitions with them so they could prove to a deputy they had applied, said Ed Brodsky, chief assistant state attorney.

"We had victims carrying their documents wherever they went due to the lag time for getting the papers served," Brodsky said.

"I believe anything that allows the petition to be quickly reviewed, approved by a judge and instantaneously delivered to a sheriff's deputy is a good thing."

Shore, who has been on the job for 35 years, has been a pioneer in the electronic sharing of information, said Brodsky, pointing out the clerk's website and public records availability, a model for the state.

Shore said he hopes that CHIPS will go statewide, including Sarasota.

"Right now it's here in Manatee County, but it should be available everywhere and I'm trying to get it to that point," Shore said.