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TALKING ABOUT THE COURTS: Chambers County Circuit Clerk Lisa Burdette, right, was the guest speaker at Monday’s meeting of the Valley Lions Club.

Circuit Clerk says her office has been doing more with less

VALLEY — Despite two rounds of personnel cutbacks since 2007, the Chambers County Circuit Clerk’s office continues to take in close to $3 million in payments each year on behalf of the county.

Circuit Clerk Lisa Burdette was the guest speaker at Monday night’s meeting of the Valley Lions Club and talked about the day-to-day activities of her office.

“We do a lot with a little,” she said. “We are grossly understaffed due to cutbacks we had in 2007 and 2011. We are working really hard to do what we do with the people we have. We have nine employees, five are paid by the state and four out of my office.”

Chambers is unusual among Alabama counties in that the cities do not have municipal courts.

“Everything is under the district court umbrella,” Burdette said. “Everything from a traffic ticket to a harassment complaint to a felony charge comes through our office. Taking payments is a big part of our job.”

In 2018, Chambers County Circuit Court t0ok in an estimated $1.3 million in criminal court and $1.4 million in civil court for a total amount of $2,881,339.91.

Burdette said that grand jury service is a good experience for the average person.

“If you ever have the opportunity to serve on one it will be eye opening for you,” she said. “Somewhere between 250 and 600 cases will be presented in a two-week period. On a case-by-case basis, it will determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial. There is no way to try 440 cases in four weeks. We are always behind on cases. Sometimes a case will be five or six years old before it comes up in court.”

There are some enjoyable parts of the job.

“I’m a passport agent,” she said. “I like that part of the job. You can talk to people about their travel plans, and it can brighten up your day. I also enjoy being the absentee elections director.”

Most of what takes place in the circuit clerk’s office isn’t pleasant. People are seldom happy when they are paying fines.

“In most cases, we are not getting people on their best days,” Burdette said. “You’d be surprised with the repeat offenders we have, especially with DUIs. We have a huge number of warrants that haven’t been served. Some of them are for people who live out of state and who got a speeding ticket on I-85. A lot of money is owed to the court system.”

There’s a lot out there in the form of child support payments.

“We don’t collect that anymore,” Burdette said. “It now goes through a payment center in Montgomery. “

From her day-to-day experience in the office, Burdette said that she can see some major problems in the state with incarceration.

“The state legislature is obsessed with building mega-prisons,” she said. “They are tying the hands of judges. It seems like we have a lot of people doing life on an installment plan. We are seeing them over and over. We have a horrible problem with illegal drugs. It just seems like more time is being spent on tracking down guys with nickel bags (of marijuana) rather than getting the guys who are bringing it in. Unless you cut the head off of that snake, you are going to have the same problems over and over again. It’s the little guys who are being arrested, and they are being arrested over and over again.”

Burdette said that a speeding ticket can cost $250. The fine itself is $20, but it is greatly inflated by the state wanting money for the general fund and money going to special projects like the Early America museums in Montevallo.

When it comes to funding, she admits to being somewhat frustrated by the fact her office is treated like an agency rather than an equal branch of government.

Overall, though, the good outweighs the bad.

“I love my job,” she said. “We do the best we can under the circumstances. We could not run this office without the four people I pay. Together, we are the paper girls and boys of the court system.”

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