Monday, August 10, 2009
FORT LAUDERDALE - Judges and attorneys took turns Thursday throwing brickbats at the Broward Clerk of Courts Office -- complaining about crucial paperwork missing from files, lost documents, and long lines for the public.
Broward Clerk of Courts Howard Forman wasn't present to dodge or return the brickbats at the forum called by Broward Chief Judge Victor Tobin. Afterward Forman said Tobin's meeting was "unprecedented and inappropriate" and he was never formally invited.
"If people have a problem with me, let them come to me and I'll try to solve it," Forman said. "The motivation for his meeting? There is a political war going on between the judges and the clerks." He referred to a legislative battle over control of clerks' offices that the clerks won this spring.
Tobin said he will meet with Forman next week to decide what to do next.
About 40 people attended Thursday's forum. Attorneys representing bar associations and news organizations and criminal court judges said Forman's overworked clerks move too slowly and have to deal with a paper system that should be computerized.
Tobin said he got a tour of the clerk's office and "I don't believe there was a level surface, including the floor, that didn't include papers for filing."
Forman, first elected to his post in 2000, has fielded a number of complaints in recent months.
Attorney Elizabeth Finizio, on the board of the Broward County Women Lawyers' Association, said people have to wait 15-30 minutes in line for paperwork. "There are 12 windows, four or five have closed' signs, and you can see three or four people milling around talking to each other," she said.
In April the Broward County Women Lawyers' Association wrote Forman to suggest making personnel accountable for files that are misplaced or lost. The same month the Broward County Bar Association complained in writing that pleadings, motions, affidavits and other paperwork are not accurately filed, meaning hearings have to be postponed, or lawyers must carry on in court without needed documents.
A file missing papers "translates to somebody sitting in the Broward County jail," said Circuit Court Judge Ilona Holmes. "It's a major, major problem in the criminal division."
Interviewed after the forum, Forman defended his office, saying he is working to get things moving faster and is only three days behind in case filings."We got a little bit of overtime money, weekend crews that help us catch up." He said he is taking steps to move toward a paperless system, and that he gets more compliments than complaints.
At the forum Tobin said the office's inefficiency requires his involvement. "If we remain silent we get nowhere."
After the meeting he made a vague threat: "There are serious consequences that can happen for not performing your job as an elected official."
Said Forman: "I'm performing my job as an elected official very well. It's political rhetoric coming from Victor Tobin. But I am happy we are meeting Aug. 12 and we can get down to business."
Posted by XXX at 7:14 AM