(CN) — With 15 board members and more than 100 employees, the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers act as a gatekeeper for attorneys and residents who access the state’s court system.
Through their own for-profit company CiviTek, the clerks manage a series of websites that process an estimated $500 million worth of transactions each year and collect millions in “convenience” fees.
Every time an attorney files a lawsuit, a couple submits divorce papers, or a parent makes a child support payment and pay with a credit card, they must navigate through CiviTek-created portals and pony up the company’s 3.5% convenience fee.
The clerks say all money taken in by CiviTek pays for company operations, and extra funds are reinvested into new technology and protect against unforeseen events, like power outages caused by a catastrophic hurricane.
But a portion of the profits from CiviTek go to the clerks association directly, including a well-funded health retirement plan and money for multiday conferences and workshops at hotels and resorts around the state.
The Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers created CiviTek in 1991 to “provide enterprise services and project management services, including information technologies” to the clerks of court, according to association documents.
Through CiviTek, the clerks association created its own vendor to capture multimillion-dollar contracts with state agencies to process payments for child support and tickets, through MyFloridaCounty.com and MyFloridaRemit.com.
And those payments came with a 3.5% convenience fee — higher than any other vendor taking electronic payments in the state.
Then, the Florida Legislature gave the green light for the clerks to implement electronic filing of new lawsuits and other court proceedings. In 2010, the clerks pushed to create the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority — an organization tasked with creating and maintaining that e-filing system.
In 2013, a Florida Supreme Court order mandated all court filings from attorneys should flow through the e-filing portal. The clerks, already festooned on the board of the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority, used its company CiviTek, to implement the change, along with the 3.5% fee for every filing.
A standard civil lawsuit filing fee of $400 incurs a $14 convenience fee. Electronic checks incur a flat $5 fee. These innocuous fees amount to a staggering amount of money: more than 1 million e-filings go through the portal each month.
The clerks association maintains the money generated by the E-Filing Authority goes back into its operations. However, the association charges the authority to use its Civitek-developed software and services to the tune of $3.5 million a year.
In effect, the clerks association sells its software and services to state agencies obliged to accept such filings by government mandate, then profits off the fees generated.
And all the while, its members sit on a board that controls the terms of the contract.
In 2012, the clerks association expanded the CiviTek business model and created CiviTek National Inc.
This for-profit corporation provides child support payment processing for states and territories outside Florida, including Oregon, Washington state, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
According to company documents, the CiviTek National board consists of three clerks of court appointed by the presidents of the association and CiviTek. These officers operate a nationwide, profitmaking enterprise that provideschild support payment processing for states and territories other than Florida, including Oregon, Washington state, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
CiviTek National’s financials are similarly not offered for public view, though a 2017 audit of the clerks association, and Form 990s, reveals money flows between the two entities.
The exact amount of money received by CiviTek, CiviTek National and the clerks association is unclear, as is where the funds are spent. The clerks association, a nonprofit, and CiviTek, a Florida for-profit company, are not subject to the Florida’s public records law.