Citing a “chronic and substantial lack of funding,” Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has ordered circuit and district clerk offices statewide to be closed to the public on Wednesdays, beginning March 20.
Staff members will continue to report to work on Wednesdays at their usual times and perform their usual duties, but they won’t be waiting on customers or answering the telephone.
“With the backlog of work in court offices statewide, this gives them time to process the required duties the clerks’ offices have,” Houston County Circuit Clerk Carla Woodall said Thursday.
A drop-box will be set up outside the office at the Houston County Courthouse and other offices statewide for receiving, recording and documenting time-sensitive filings.
Additional provisions will be made for emergency matters such as warrants, protection from abuse petitions, restraining orders and the like, according to a release from Woodall’s office.
The administrative order signed by Moore on Wednesday said the state’s judicial branch has had a net loss of 498 employees since 2001, most prominently in the court clerks’ offices and the juvenile probation offices.
Woodall said her office is currently staffed at 43 percent after it lost another employee last week.
“Based upon the proposed budget beginning fiscal year 2014, we are projected to be cut an additional 20 to 30 percent,” Woodall said. “It’s significant.”
Woodall said her office and others have implemented cost-saving measures since the cutbacks began, but they have been cut to the bone.
“There’s no way, statewide, clerks’ offices can continue to do that,” Woodall said.
As circuit clerk, she said the purpose of her office is the serve the public.
“It is disheartening that we are now in the position that the public cannot come in and do their business that they need to do,” Woodall said.
“I hate it, but I also have to comply with the order of the chief justice of the state of Alabama,” she said.
Moore, who was elected in November, said in his order that state funding for the court system is estimated to be at least $16.5 million less than needed for fiscal year 2014.