Judge Bryant is running for clerk of the circuit court

OKEECHOBEE — County Judge Jerry Bryant retired from the bench in January 2019, but after spending a year living a “life of leisure,” he decided it was not for him and has thrown his hat in the ring as candidate to run for clerk of the circuit court.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Judge Bryant decided retirement was not for him.

“I have been thinking about this for a few years,” he said, since “even before I retired as a judge.” He was waiting to see if his friend Sharon Robertson was going to retire as clerk, because he had heard rumors to that effect. There was never any formal announcement saying she was going to run for re-election, either. He said usually when you plan to run, you announce. But she didn’t, so he began making plans to run.

Then he went down to the Supervisor of Elections Office to register and saw that she had filed a month before but, having already put a lot of work into it, he decided to go ahead with it. He said there were things he saw over the years that he felt could be done differently that would make the office run more smoothly, and he wanted to step up and make things better.

He said he views the job as kind of like someone purchasing a home that has been lived in by the same family for many years. That family loved the home the way it was for years and took good care of it, but the new family moves and sees things through fresh eyes and they change things, paint the walls and rearrange things. Often, these fresh eyes and new ideas are just what the home needed.

Judge Bryant believes there are some changes that need to be made. He has seen the need for those changes himself as a lawyer and a judge and has heard concerns from others involved in the court system. One of the biggest changes he would like to implement is with technology. “We have one of the few clerk’s offices in the state that still does handwritten court notes, and that takes a huge amount of man-hours to prepare for court. If you’ve got 100 cases on the docket, there are at least 100 court notes with names and case information that have to be prepared by hand the day before court,” he said.

When he took the bench, he was surprised they were still doing handwritten notes here, because nearly 20 years ago, he had programs in his law office where he could open a file and have all the information about the client and the case in it. If they needed to generate a document, they just hit a button. They didn’t have to rewrite it every day. “It’s just inefficient,” he said. “I feel like we ought to be able to accomplish things with technology so the clerk’s personnel can be doing other necessary things.”

He recently counted how many county clerks’ offices in Florida he has been in, and it was at least 32 counties. Twenty years ago, there were counties using digital documentation for court records, he said. “The employees here are very good. I loved working with them. I just feel like we can put them to better use than handwriting something that could have been done instantly by computer.”

Regarding the court system, Judge Bryant takes the position that everyone involved has a single goal and that, to accomplish that goal, all should cooperate and work together — the judiciary, law enforcement, state attorney, legal community and the clerk’s office. “I intend to foster that sense of cooperation,” he said.

Another change he would like to see is making the office much more public-service oriented. He feels the clerk’s office is a public service. “Not that it isn’t now,” he said, “as most of the employees are very helpful, but that attitude should just permeate the office. When people go in, it ought to be, ‘What can we do to help you?’ and the attitude should always be, ‘Let’s help the public get what they need so they can get on with their lives.’ That should be our goal and that’s what I’d like to accomplish. With fresh vision and leadership, I’m sure the staff in the office can help me facilitate this.”

The official title of the job is clerk of the circuit court and comptroller. the constitution calls it the clerk of the circuit court, but the statutes say if the clerk does the financial function for the county then the title shall include “comptroller.” Our county has that in place. The State Clerks of Court Association has identified 926 functions of the clerk’s office. In addition to handling all the records of the court and public records such as mortgages, deeds, judgments, marriage licenses — all the public records that we use daily — they serve as secretary to the court, keeper of all the court records, and evidence custodian. They also do the financial function for the county, basically being the auditor and writing the checks, he explained. The county adopts a budget and then when they have an expenditure from the budget, it is submitted to the clerk, who confirms it is a valid budgeted expense and then writes the check. It’s a big job. “My background in accounting and banking has prepared me for that part of the job.”

Judge Bryant has a degree in accounting, worked as vice president of the Commercial Bank of Okeechobee — now SunTrust — and was assistant regional controller for Sun Banks of Florida before law school. With his banking and accounting background, he believes he is capable of managing the county financial, budgeting and other comptroller duties of the clerk of circuit court, as well.

“I like to think that I kept my promises as county judge and will do no less as clerk of circuit court. I ask that the voters of Okeechobee allow me that opportunity,” he said.

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