Orange County Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell
In a Thursday morning press release, the Orange County Clerk of Courts office announced it is forced to begin furloughing workers, due to COVID-19 budget cuts.
Starting on the week of Aug. 10, all clerk office employees will be furloughed one day per week, without pay, until Oct. 2, "or until relief funding is obtained," read the statement. For most employees, the unpaid day off will be every Friday.
That means the county clerk offices will be closed on Fridays, too, during the furlough period. This will be a big deal to residents with virtually any legal matter before Orange County or Ninth Circuit courts, from marriage licenses to passports and wills. Criminal and civil court processes will be held up, as well, including traffic tickets (you can still handle those online).
"I am saddened and deeply regret that I have to take these steps," said Clerk Tiffany Moore Russell. "My staff are essential workers and many of them live on tight budgets, so I know this will be a hardship that I wish I could avoid."
The stated reason is COVID-19 but the deeper cause is Florida law, which does not give authority to county clerks' offices to create or maintain a reserve or emergency fund. The Orange County Clerk's office is funded by the court costs and fees they collect, all of which have greatly slowed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Across the state, clerks of the court have had to reduce operating funds by $60 million. Here in Orange County, that amount was $3.8 million, or 53 percent cut from the clerk's fourth-quarter budget.
"While many entities and families have been impacted by COVID-19, its effect is particularly severe for Florida’s Clerks of Court because of the unique way the offices are funded under Florida law," said the statement.
The office advises people with outstanding payments who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 to contact them to discuss options like payment plans.
The clerk's office says it is working closely with county government and Gov. Ron DeSantis, "to try and obtain emergency funding to help address this funding crisis."
You can still conduct a good deal of business online, at the clerk of courts' website, which includes a video on how to perform records searches and other tasks — but it would be an improvement for everyone in Orange County if Russell's office were authorized to maintain an emergency fund. _
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