The Florida Bar

Florida Bar News

Broward clerk sues state over budget process

Regular News

Broward clerk sues state over budget process

Broward County Clerk of Court Howard Forman is suing the state claiming it is taking too large a slice of filing fees and other charges collected by the clerks and that the Legislature has improperly delegated budgetary authority over the clerks to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission (LBC).

Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron, representing Forman, filed the case May 9 in the Second Judicial Circuit.

The suit contends that the Florida Constitution requires adequate funding for the court-related operations of the clerks from the fees, services charges, and costs collected by the clerks, and that the Legislature is in charge of the appropriations process.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli Through a spokesman, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said, “This is a politically motivated lawsuit.”

Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers, made clear the lawsuit was filed by the clerk from Broward County, on behalf of his individual office.

“The association is not party to this lawsuit,” Bascom said.

The suit charged, “[T]he Legislature has, in violation of Article V, Section 14 of the State Constitution, authorized the diversion of millions of dollars of such ‘filing fees’ for purposes other than for ‘funding of the offices of the clerks of the circuit and county courts performing court related functions. As a result of the diversion of these filing fees, funding for the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of the 17th Judicial Circuit and the County Court of Broward County performing court-related functions, as well as all other clerks of the circuit and county courts performing court-related functions, is not adequate ‘for performing court-related functions as required by general law.’”

Current law, the suit said, has clerks of court, through their Clerks of Court Operations Corporation (CCOC), submit budgets, both the combined total of all clerks statewide and individual budgets for each clerk, to the LBC, which can approve, disapprove, or amend the CCOC budget, the combined clerks’ budget, and individual clerks’ budgets, or approve a continuation budget.

“Neither the proposed budget nor the approved budget nor the continuation budget is approved by the full Legislature, as required by Article III, Section 12, of the State Constitution,” the suit said.

The suit delineates the statutes that authorize the clerks to collect filings fees, costs, and other charges, and breaks down how those funds are divvied up between the clerks and the state. It argues the portion left for the clerks is insufficient for their court-related operations.

The suit asks the court to declare unconstitutional various laws that divert funds collected by the clerks into the state’s General Revenue fund or other state trust funds. It also asks the court to find unconstitutional other state laws “to the extent that they permit the LBC to establish the budgets of the clerks of the circuit and the courts, including the budget of the Broward Clerk of Court, without the concurrence of the full Legislature.. . . ”

Named as defendants are the Florida Department of Revenue (which receives the monies from the clerks under state law), the Florida Department of Financial Services (which disburses the collected monies to various state trust funds), and the Joint Legislative Budget Commission.

Clerks are struggling financially, saying revenues are more than $40 million below what they are authorized to spend and that the resulting staff and office-hours reductions are likely to affect services to the courts.

News in Photos