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Senator Crist Tells Courts and Clerks to Play Nice

The chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee delivered a message to the squabbling court officials and clerks throughout the state Thursday.

Get along, or else I write your budget without your input, said Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa.

“We will put them last on the agenda and take care of everyone else first and they'll have to live with the scraps,” Crist told the News Service following a committee meeting where court officials updated members on the status of a new E-filing program.

The issue at hand is an electronic filing system that the clerks implemented statewide at the beginning of October that would allow attorneys to file lawsuits, pleadings and motions online. The new process, required by legislation, requires the clerks to build an electronic portal that will serve as a statewide entry point for filing court documents.

The E-filing system should make filing cases and paperwork easier on lawyers and regular people who are handling their own legal work. It ideally will also save the state money, lawmakers said last spring when the legislation passed.

But, the clerks and courts have long been at odds over many issues and engaged in a bitter fight last spring over the legislation, which also changed the clerks' budgeting process. That fight seems to have spilled over into disagreements over the E-portal.

The biggest schism between the two groups seems to be who should be designing and managing the portal. However, the two sides are also hammering out what type of information needs to be collected so that the judges and other court officials can operate efficiently and what security measures should be in place.

The clerks and courts did meet this morning, said 11th Circuit Court Judge Judith Kreeger, and have pledged to work together on the project.

“I think we all understand there's a decision to be made,” she said.

Crist has asked that the two groups have a plan for the E-portal in place by December when the committee meets next. The ultimate goal is to have all the issues ironed out and in place by March when the legislative session begins, he said. That directive is also coming from Senate leaders, he said.

“It is our goal and it is our mandate to get this done before session because we've got huge other issues on the plate,” Crist said.

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