110113 Clerk of the Circuit Court – Tony Biell

Clerk of the Circuit Court Manages a Complex Organization

 

Clerk of the Circuit Court Of Charlotte County; why write about this? Because we all are supported one way or another by this office.   The Clerk is an elected office and is part of the judicial branch of county government, but serves in two capacities: as a court official in charge of the clerical operations of the County Court and as Clerk to the Board of County Commissioners. The current Clerk is Barbara T. Scott (T. for Tomasullo) who has served ably in this challenging position after several reelections.

The Clerk’s office serves Charlotte County citizens by handling passport applications, marriage license applications, Small Claims Court filings, traffic violations, tenant evictions, property tax deed sales, will probate, and real/personal property tax assessment appeals. The office also performs wedding ceremonies.

As a court official some of the Clerk’s responsibilities include keeping records of court proceedings, both civil and criminal, issuing documents for the arrest of persons charged, maintaining a trial calendar and keeping track of judgments, and issuing summonses for jurors and witnesses.

One responsibility of the Clerk is the staffing of citizens for jury duty. Candidates are selected from state drivers license and identification card holders who reside in the County. In the past jurors were selected from registered voters, but this method reduces the pool since citizens often do not report address changes on a timely basis and people who are not registered voters are ignored.

When a judge requires jurors for a trial a computer selects names from the list and the individuals are summoned by mail. This summons is a legal document and failure to report for jury duty without a reasonable excuse can involve a fine as well as being held in contempt of court. Some citizens exempted from jury duty are those who have served as jurors within the past year and those who are seventy years of age or older.

Within the last year or so people who report for jury duty have complained about the lack of refreshment facilities. The vending machines were removed from the jury rooms and individuals are not allowed to leave the premises. Coffee and soft drinks are not available even at the citizen’s own expense. Those showing up at 7:30 AM and expecting a cup of coffee have been out of luck. Apparently this is a result of the County’s tight finances resulting in substantial cuts to the Clerk’s budgets.

This situation is unreasonable and one would think easily corrected by having outside vendors provide machines for use by the citizens. This could be done at no cost to the County. Vendors, where are you?

 

The Clerk, as the official keeper of documents for the County, records deeds, leases, bills of sale, property liens, tax warrants and tax executions, documents pertaining to the ownership and transfer of property, and numerous other documents. Many of these instruments must be kept permanently and often date back to the establishment of Charlotte County and earlier.

An archive of these “ancient” records is maintained and mainly serves as a data base for legal research, but also provides some interesting historical records. The records are in various forms, e.g., original paper documents, microfilm, microfiche, etc.

Most of these records are irreplaceable and must be protected ad infinitum. The greatest risk to the files is fire and the archives are protected with substantial sprinkler systems, potentially a problem in themselves. Personal experience has shown that when vital records are sprayed by a sprinkler system, many, if not all of them, are seriously damaged by the water, rendering the documents worthless. With irreplaceable records, this situation is intolerable.

The county should consider installing a fire suppression system that will not destroy its own records. Systems using Halon gas were ideal for such an application, but were banned because the gas’ effect on the ozone layer. Since this ban a number of other non-destructive systems were developed and are widely used. These should be investigated, because there is no turning back when records are permanently destroyed. It need happen only once.

 

 

Anthony J. Biell

Jan. 13, 2011