Moore orders Wednesday closings for circuit clerks

Published 12:03 am Friday, March 8, 2013

Citing funding shortfalls Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore issued an order Wednesday directing circuit clerk offices in Alabama to be closed to the public on Wednesdays beginning March 20.

However, Covington County Circuit Clerk Amy Jones said she “will endeavor to keep the doors open to the public if at all possible.”

The order stated staff work hours should not be altered, even though the offices – both circuit and district clerks’ – will be closed to the public. The county’s presiding circuit judge can apply for an exemption to the closure, the order stated – which is exactly Judge Ashley McKathan may do.

“While courts generate a large portion of the state budget, in as far as income is concerned, it is none the less true that the courts are chronically under funded,” McKathan said. “The order from the chief justice seems to be an attempt to allow the clerks to get their work done despite the fact that they’re typically under-staffed; however, the chief justice does allow particular counties to seek exemptions from the order, and we are contemplating making such a request.”

Currently, the clerk’s office closes at 3 p.m. on Thursdays in response to the previous order issued July 2011 by then-Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb which allowed circuit clerk office closings in “response to significant but less dire under-funding during her administration.”

The order also calls for a drop-box the public can use to accommodate time-sensitive filings, which is already in place locally for the Thursday closings.

Moore said in his order that state funding for courts was cut $25 million for fiscal 2013 and an expected offset appears to be about $13 million short for the current year and beyond.

The chief justice, who was elected in November, also said in the order that the expected appropriation for the court system for fiscal 2014 will be $16.5 million “less than needed.”

“I regret the funding shortfall has resulted in decreased hours in the clerks’ offices, but I appreciate Chief Justice Moore managing this difficult financial scenario as best he and the judiciary can,” said Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.

Orr, chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund committee, said the court system will receive the largest increase of any state entity under a pending version of next year’s General Fund budget.

Orr said they are working on additional legislation to try to get some new funds to the judicial system.

“It will help, but it will not solve some of the funding challenges,” Orr said.