Two organizations worked closely with the office of Ken Burke, Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, to pay off fines and costs of people who had a record of felony convictions. The non-profit organizations that propelled this effort were Florida Rights and Restoration Coalition, the group behind Amendment 4 which restores ex-felons’ voting rights, and Free Our Vote, which helps former felons in Florida learn about court fines/fees they might owe.
These agencies provided a list of defendants, with demographic information, for the Clerk to search for outstanding cases for each defendant that was adjudicated guilty, with outstanding fines, costs, and restitution. Once the Clerk’s office received the requests from the nonprofit organizations, the staff worked diligently through many steps to ensure the payments were applied correctly, while keeping in mind the complexities of every case. The staff searched each individual name in the system by using filters to show felony cases only. Case history summaries were printed, and staff was able to filter the information using that data to determine which cases needed further review. Once each case was researched, the staff would go back into those cases to see if the disposition was adjudication withheld, adjudicated guilty, or if the State Attorney certified the case down to a misdemeanor. If the disposition was adjudication withheld or certified to a misdemeanor, this information would be conveyed to the organization for further direction regarding processing of the payment. If the disposition was adjudicated guilty, the staff would list those cases and review them for accuracy to reflect the correct outstanding balance.
The Clerk’s office also worked hard to review the court ordered judgments and sentences to ensure what the court ordered the defendant to pay was accurate in the financial tab of the Pinellas County’s Case Management system. If restitution was ordered, the Clerk’s office would indicate it separately on the list, as in most cases the restitution is ordered to be paid to the victim or the Department of Corrections. If the defendant was ordered to pay restitution to the victim, the victim would have to provide a satisfaction of lien when the restitution was paid in full and record it in Official Records. If the defendant was ordered to pay restitution through the Department of Corrections, then the Department of Corrections would provide a letter to the Clerk indicating restitution was satisfied and that correspondence would go into the case file.
In total, the Pinellas Clerk’s office received $1,530,930.13 from Florida Rights and Restoration Coalition and $32,920.57 from Free Our Vote. “We are especially grateful to Pinellas County Clerk, Ken Burke, and his team, who worked tirelessly with us,” stated Dr. Neel Sukhatme, co-founder and director of Free Our Vote. “Thanks to them, Free Our Vote was able to clear felony court fines/fees for 619 individuals in the county prior to the November election.” Many citizens were surprised to hear their fines and costs were paid by the nonprofit organizations and were delighted to learn that their voting rights could be restored by applying to the Office of Executive Clemency. “The amazing work of these two non-profits helped clear the financial burden many Pinellas County citizens had which affected their ability to vote,” stated Clerk Burke. “This impactful initiative also helped to raise awareness among citizens to inquire about whether or not they had outstanding fines.”