Clerk’s office considers closing options

Published 8:01 pm Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb has issued an Administrative Order directing Circuit/District clerks to close offices to the public up to 10 hours per week during normal business hours. Jamie Scarbrough, Pike County circuit clerk, said her office is considering a couple of options that will put the office in compliance with the order.

Cobb’s decision was made due to the inadequate funding of the Judicial Branch of Government, resulting in the massive layoffs of more than 253 more court specialists statewide at the end of August.

Cobb’s order to reduce the number of hours the public can be served will not save the court system money but it will allow remaining court employees to devote more time to court-related duties in an effort to prevent a backlog of court filings.

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“I have talked with our circuit judge, the DA and the sheriff in an effort to determine what will work best for our office and the people we serve,” Scarbrough said. “Our two options are to close daily at 3 p.m. or to close at 4 p.m. each day except Wednesday when we would close at noon.

Scarbrough said she is leaning more toward the Wednesday noon option.

“That option would give us an entire afternoon to wade through our work loads without interruption and we should be able to get a lot of work done during that big block of time,” she said. “Working behind closed doors won’t save a dime. It’s just a matter of giving our staff uninterrupted time to process the huge amount of paper work.”

The Pike County Circuit Clerk’s office is down to four employees and Scarbrough said there is no way such a small staff can process all of the paperwork. Much of the paperwork is having to be put on the backburner.

“Criminal work, domestic claims and protection abuse will get top priority,” she said. “Divorces, small claims, and so forth will be put on the stack. The bad part of all this is that we have always prided ourselves on customer service. We’ve operated on the assumption that the number one person is on the other side of the counter. To close the doors seems like we are doing a disservice to those we serve.”

Scarbrough said according to a work-study, the caseload at the Pike County Circuit Clerk’s office requires nine employees.

“We’re down to four so it’s going to be extremely hard to keep our heads above the water and keep things running smoothly,” she said. “We really hate to close the door on the public but, since that has been ordered, we will have a secure drop box for anyone who wants to leave payments they are ordered to pay every week. We don’t want to hinder those who are trying to take care of their responsibilities.

“I was hoping that our new Chief Justice would come riding in on a white horse and save us. But it doesn’t look like there are any white horses around. So, it looks like we’re going to have to go through some hard times to get to better times.”

Charles Story, president of the Alabama Circuit Clerk’s Association, said that Alabama’s court system is in crisis.

“The Circuit Clerks office is the hub of the trial court system,” Story said.

“With insufficient funding and staffing, we will not be able to timely perform our constitutional duties. The public should be prepared for additional waiting time and delays in many cases.”
Story said the state’s Circuit Clerk’s offices will do everything possible to provide timely service to the public.

“But with increasing caseloads and fewer staff, there will be no way that we can serve the public as quickly as we do now,” he said.

“We are asking for the public’s patience when it takes longer for us to answer the phones, wait on them at the counter and process their case filings. Our employees are dedicated to their jobs and we will do the best that we can with limited resources.”