Court clerks complain over budget cuts' impact

September 16, 1990|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

Clerks of the Circuit Court in Maryland's 24 jurisdictions are reeling from a 3.5 percent budget cut ordered by the governor to help cover a $150 million state budget shortfall, saying it will result in poorer service to the public and layoffs of part-time employees in several jurisdictions.

The clerk's offices serve circuit courts in many ways, keeping track of records in civil, criminal and juvenile cases, handling land records, providing clerical support in courtrooms, performing weddings and issuing a wide variety of licenses.

"The cuts will have an obvious impact," said C. Merritt Pumphrey, the clerk in Howard County and president of the State of Maryland Court Clerks Association.

"We have lean budgets already, and services will be cut back across the state," he said.

He said the budget cutback -- $1.3 million off $37 million -- will lead to delays in recording land deeds and mortgages and to later filings of criminal, juvenile and civil pleadings.

"We might end up with a situation where the court file will be sent to a judge who is to hear a case without the current pleadings being included in the file folder," Mr. Pumphrey said. "And delays in notifying litigants about court orders could occur."

Patricia Bertorelli, the chief deputy of Baltimore's court clerk, said the $311,000 cut in the office's $10 million budget "will affect us tremendously and will be real harmful to our operation."

"We are stretched very, very thin, and this will effect our service in processing court records and accuracy of data," she said.

Ms. Bertorelli said the Baltimore clerk's operation "just came off an employment freeze July 1, and now it is back on, and we have 12 vacancies that are not filled" in the 300-employee office

"Our juvenile division already is suffering severely, and our caseload is going up," she said. "There are over 4,000 asbestos cases alone that have been filed and are sitting in boxes."

The 3.5 percent cut will cost the Baltimore County Circuit Court clerk's office $137,000. Wylie L. Ritchey Jr., the chief deputy, said it will have a "very negative effect on our budget." He said the office may be forced to lay off five temporary employees.

"It will affect the entire services we provide to the legal profession and public," Mr. Ritchey said. "It will slow down our operation, particularly in issuing summonses and recording land instruments."

H. Erle Schafer, clerk of Anne Arundel County's Circuit Court, said the reduction will have a "major impact" on the his office, which has 99 full-time and temporary employees, although he is still studying the extent of the impact.

"We are looking at the budget now and hope we don't have to lay off employees," said Mr. Schafer. "It puts us in a precarious position, and I don't know how we will meet it."

Charles G. Hiob, clerk of the court in Harford County, said the cutback of $35,000 could result in the layoff of some of the office's six part-time employees. There are 24 full-time deputy clerks.

"It definitely will have an effect on our operation," Mr. Hiob said. "We are so short because we had funds for our data-processing system cut, and already we find ourselves behind the eight-ball."

Mr. Pumphrey said that the 3.5 percent cut in Howard, amounting to $55,000, will have an impact "on our whole operation. I will lose several employees at the end of the September and not be able to replace them. Services will have to be cut back."

The Prince George's County Circuit Court clerk's office said it will have to trim $171,000 from its $4.9 million operating budget "at a time when we are so understaffed as it is," said Colleen Walling, chief deputy in the suburban Washington county.

She said her office might have to lay off four part-time assistants.

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