Moore orders clerks' offices closed Wednesdays

Bob Johnson, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has ordered that circuit and district clerk offices in Alabama be closed to the public on Wednesdays because of a financial crisis facing the court system.

The order was released Thursday. Moore directed that the clerks' offices be closed every Wednesday beginning March 20. Moore told clerks to place notice of the closings in public places inside and outside their offices. The chief justice said the employees of the clerks' offices would continue to work their regular office hours on Wednesdays.

Tuscaloosa County District Clerk Libby Hamner said that because the offices would continue to be staffed on Wednesdays, Moore's order would not save much money, but would free up clerks to do filing and other work that's difficult to concentrate on when the office is open. The clerks' offices are already understaffed because of budget cuts in recent years.

"This is designed to help us get the job done," Hamner said.

In his order, Moore said the clerks would continue to process "emergency matters," such as arrest warrants, search warrants and temporary restraining orders. He also ordered each clerk to maintain a drop box or similar device for receiving time-sensitive filings, pleadings and documents.

Moore said that the one-day a week closing was necessary because the courts are facing a crisis due to underfunding.

The order came a day after the Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund committee approved a General Fund budget that would cut the already cash-strapped court system by as much as $14 million.

"The chronic and substantial lack of adequate funding of the Judicial Branch has resulted in myriad problems such as a net loss of 498 employees since 2001 ... a hiring freeze, a suspension of merit raises for all court employees since 2008 and an inability to retain or replace key judicial system employees," Moore wrote in his order.

The chief justice said the Wednesday closings are partly in response to clerks saying they need more time for administrative duties.

Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard said legislators are aware of the problem facing the court system and would consider those issues while preparing the budget.

Hubbard said he "sympathizes" with the chief justice but "we're limited to the amount of money we have."

Hamner said Moore's order will give employees in her office one day a week that is less stressful and they can "think clearly."