Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s order to close state circuit and district court offices on Wednesdays goes into effect today in Morgan and Lawrence counties.
Moore approved an exemption in Limestone County at the request of Circuit Court Judge James Woodroof Jr., according to Administrative Office of Courts spokesman Scott Hoyem.
Limestone Circuit Clerk Brad Curnutt said Woodroof, as chief judge in the 39th Judicial Circuit, made the request because closing the clerk’s office could mean a loss of income.
Limestone District Courts are in session only on Wednesdays, and the public could not pay fines if his office is closed, Curnutt said. Morgan County’s District Court does not have a set day for sessions, Morgan County Circuit Clerk Chris Priest said.
“We’re already closed five hours a week,” Curnutt said, referring to the noon hour. He said Judges Jeanne Anderson and Jerry Batts “hear 300 to 350 cases on a Wednesday.”
Curnutt said he is short-staffed with seven employees. His office needs every hour so people don’t have to wait for service.
“In a perfect world, everybody should be able to walk in and pay their fines,” Curnutt said. “But we also have people who come in to file a lawsuit or eviction notice, and it takes time to serve them. The people behind them then have to wait a while just to pay their fine.”
Curnutt said people must pay their fines or face additional punishment, but some won’t pay if they leave the courthouse and have to return.
“That’s where we would lose money,” Curnutt said.
Curnutt would not discuss how much his office takes in on Wednesdays. The minimum state trooper fine is $215.
Moore issued his order March 7 to close circuit and district clerk offices on Wednesday because of the state’s tight budget.
Moore’s order allows circuit or district clerk employees to continue working, but offices will be closed to the public so they can focus on administrative duties.
The offices will accept lawsuits, motions and legal documents submitted online.
Priest said his office will adhere to Moore’s order but will no longer be closed noon-1 p.m. workdays. Priest said closing Wednesdays will allow his staff of 10 catch up on backlogged cases, particularly in the criminal division that is three months behind.
Priest said the office is operating at 45 percent of the needed level to cover its case load.
“This is a safety issue,” Priest said. “It will allow us to schedule their hearings, process their court findings and get (convicts) out of jail or to their probationary officer.”
Lawrence County Circuit Clerk Sandra Ligon has five employees, about half of what she thinks her office needs. She plans to provide a drop box for emergency submittals.
“I’m sure it will be inconvenient to the public, but it should have a positive impact and bring a speedier resolution to cases,” Ligon said.
Woodroof could not be reached for comment.
Daily reporter Mary Sell contributed to this report.
Bayne Hughes can be reached at 256-340-2432 or email@example.com.
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