March 2, 2006

Circuit, Associate Circuit Courts To Consolidate Offices

With every new year comes the prospect of change. An important change for the Circuit Court in Scotland County will occur this fall when the responsibility for all case processing and record keeping functions will be consolidated into a single office under the Circuit Clerk, Anita Watkins.

Currently, court staff is employed by two separate offices, one overseen by the Honorable Karl DeMarce, Associate Circuit Judge, and the other by Ms. Watkins, Circuit Clerk. While the staff from the two offices cooperates fully, it has been recognized by Judge DeMarce, Ms. Watkins, and the Honorable Gary Dial, Presiding Judge for the First Judicial Circuit, that personnel and other resources could be used more efficiently if they were consolidated. It is anticipated that Scotland County will be the 52nd county in the state to combine the clerical functions for all case types handled by the Circuit Court into one office.

A number of benefits are expected to result from the consolidation: A larger pool of staff will be available for customer service and courtroom duties; individuals will be able to complete transactions or obtain information at one office; by transferring personnel to the Circuit Clerk, the Associate Circuit Judge will be able to devote more time to judicial responsibilities. In addition, state funding will be provided to pay for most of the expenses associated with the consolidation.

Consolidation will involve some remodeling and moving of offices within the Courthouse, which is expected to occur this fall. The office of the Circuit Clerk will move to the second floor of the courthouse, adjacent to the existing courtroom. After consolidation, the public will go to this office for filing of all new court cases, payment of fines and court costs, jury duty matters, and all other business with the Circuit Court. Passport applications will continue to be handled by the circuit Clerk.

The first floor office now occupied by the clerical staff of the associate division of the court will be remodeled into a non-jury courtroom. This change will improve the efficiency of the courts service to the public, by providing adequate facilities when more than one court case is in progress at the same time a situation which occurs more often than many realize.

The Recorder of Deeds and the University of Missouri Extension will take over the space on the first floor now occupied by the Circuit Clerk. The public will continue to go to this office to record real estate deeds and mortgages, apply for marriage licenses, and transact other business handled by the Recorder of Deeds, including military discharge and various liens.

Although there will be a brief period of transition while the remodeling and moving of offices are in progress, we do not anticipate any significant interruption of service or inconvenience to the public as a result of consolidation, said Judge DeMarce.

While the court staff recognizes that consolidation will require some adjustment, Judges Dial and DeMarce, as well as Ms. Watkins, all voiced optimism and are looking forward to the opportunity to improve efficiency and service.

I feel the biggest benefit of the consolidation will be seen by the public, stated Watkins. According to Watkins, all of the present clerical court staff, including two full-time deputies, one part-time deputy and Watkins, will be working in the same office and will be processing all levels of court cases including traffic, probate, small claims, municipal, juvenile, circuit, civil, domestic relations, misdemeanor and felony criminal cases. We often receive calls and inquiries in my office and have to direct the person to the Associate Division because their case is not filed in my office. I think the move to one location will save a considerable amount of time and frustration for the public. In addition, consolidation will give us the opportunity to cross-train court staff. This will be valuable in the event someone is out of the office due to illness or vacation. After consolidation, there will be adequate staff available to assist the public and keep the courts functioning smoothly.

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