NewsLocal NewsInvestigations


COVID-19 causes record drop in revenue for clerks of court throughout Florida

Martin County Clerk of Courts: 70% drop in traffic ticket revenue
Deputy wearing mask stands at entrance to Martin County Constitutional Office Building
Posted at 6:32 AM, Sep 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 19:04:27-04

STUART, Fla. — A steep drop in revenue at county clerks of court statewide due to the COVID-19 pandemic will result in budget cuts impacting every corner of the state, Contact 5 has found.

According to the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corp., the coronavirus has caused a "record drop in revenue."

On June 26, the corporation moved to cut $59 million from clerk court-related budgets throughout the state.

The cuts have to occur in the fourth quarter of this fiscal year. A representative for the Florida CCOC told Contact 5 the cuts are an operational reduction of about 53% for that quarter.

'Clerks Office Closures' graphic

The Martin County Clerk of Courts is among the 67 county clerks that saw revenue flatline as the pandemic spread.

"Traffic tanked, essentially," Martin County Clerk of Courts Carolyn Timmann said. "In my office, that was a 70% reduction in those funds."

According to Timmann, those funds amounted to about $500,000 of the clerk's operating budget. Timmann told Contact 5 that filing fees and fine collections are also down.

"We have to prioritize assistance for domestic violence victims, people needing mental health evaluations, those things we need to prioritize," Timmann said, noting those services don't generate revenue.

RELATED: Growing backlog of court cases could logjam Florida court when jury trials resume | Judicial logjam: Civil court expected to make up more than half of pending cases through next summer

Statewide, the Florida CCOC expects 17% of county clerks to close their offices temporarily.

"These closures could be a branch office closure, or it could be their entire office closed for one or two days a week," wrote Jason Welty, budget and communications director for the Florida CCOC, in an email.

It's not just court operations impacted by reductions at the clerk's office. The local clerk of court is responsible for property deeds, marriage licenses and other official state records.

Farther south, Chief Judge Krista Marx of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County worries about finances tightening and the potential fallout.

"If they start having to furlough or their staff is short, it's going to deeply affect the courts," Marx told Contact 5 in an interview.

Chief Judge Krista Marx discusses backlog in Palm Beach County courts

So far, the Palm Beach County Clerk of Courts has felt a minimal impact, as Marx said they received a $4 million loan from the county.

On the Treasure Coast, some clerks have made hiring freezes. The Florida CCOC said 8% of job openings in clerks offices statewide will be left vacant through the end of this fiscal year.

Those currently employed will feel the budgetary squeeze, too, with 57% of staff in clerks offices expected to take a pay cut, according to the Florida CCOC.

Timmann said the Martin County Clerk of Court's office transferred 15 employees to other county jobs, workers her office will need back when the office is fully operational down the road.

"It will be a slower process to be able to access the courts to resolve disputes," she said. "All of these things are waiting in the pipeline."

Email the Contact 5 Investigators
Share your news tips and story ideas with WPTV's investigations team.