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Limestone’s circuit clerk current on disbursements

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com · 340-2437

At least one of Morgan County Circuit Clerk John Pat Orr’s neighboring counterparts doesn’t share the dilemma of holding unclaimed money that belongs to others.

Limestone County Circuit Clerk Charles Page said he has a method of dealing with returned checks he’s issued to people and business for such things as restitution, child support and other court-related fees.

Unlike Orr, Page doesn’t have any judicial monetary holdings.

“We try to stay current with our disbursements,” Page said. “We try to do it quarterly, because if you get too far behind, it will be difficult to get them out. We’re a smaller county and in a larger county it might be more difficult.”

Page said addresses change and so do the owners of businesses, and that leads to complications.

Continuous process

“If checks come back, we do everything to locate the people,” Page said. “We call and research to find new addresses. We do that continuously.”

Orr has money in the bank from returned checks he issued dating to 1995. Although some of the recipients, local attorneys and businesses such as Wal-Mart, should be easy to find, Orr said it’s difficult mainly because of address changes.

“Like if you get a check back from Hardee’s, well you might have to send it to somewhere in another state,” said Orr.

Orr has started to disburse $11,500 to 259 people and businesses and says he would like to recuperate before starting on another list of 1,050 for whom he is holding more than $200,000.

State examiners listed findings in Orr’s recent audit for district and circuit courts stating that he had been holding checks that were more than five years old. The auditors noted the same problem was found in prior audits.

Staff shortage

Orr said his office lagged in dealing with returned disbursements due to a statewide staff cut in circuit court offices about five years ago.

The Daily ran a list of the 259 recipients, which Orr is now processing. Some people have called or gone to his office to claim their money, he said.

Lawrence County has some returned checks also, but employees continuously work to disburse the money, according to Chief Clerk Sandra Ligon.

“Our amount is nothing like Morgan County’s,” said Ligon. “We are short-staffed like Mr. Orr, and we try to find the people.”

She said employees search the phone book and look online to try to find recipients. Ligon said the Lawrence County office has few disbursements more than five years old.

Page said if he and his staff are familiar with recipients, they contact them immediately.

“If they’re known to us, we call them,” Page said. “I believe it’s harder to do in a larger county. I believe that every clerk does what he possibly can to see to it that the money goes where it needs to go.”

12 years to claim funds

By law, circuit clerks may keep such funds for five years. Then, they must forward the money to the County Commission office, where it can remain up to seven years. Recipients may claim the money during that period and, if they don’t, it goes into the county’s General Fund.

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