COVID-19 Updates

In response to the public concern of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and social distancing advisements, Polk County Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller Stacy M. Butterfield announces changes to clerk-related services.


Clerk Office Closed to the Public, Remote Services Available

Effective Friday, March 20, the Clerk’s offices are closed to the public except for essential services and any services that can be done online, by telephone, or by electronic means. This affects all those seeking walk-in services. The offices will remain closed until further notice.
Due to an extremely high volume of calls, our call center will stop taking new calls starting at 4 p.m. in order to answer all calls waiting in the queue before closing time at 5 p.m. We thank you for your patience during this time and look forward to assisting you.

Remote services that are still available to the public include

  •  Pay a traffic ticket (online or by phone)
  •  Electronically record mortgages, deeds, and other official records (online, for repeat filers only, such as contractors, attorneys, title companies, closing agents, etc.)
  •  File court documents electronically (online)
  •  Electronically view court records, official records, and request certified copies (online)
  •  Check your jury status or request excusals and postponements (online or by phone)
  •  Check the status of court proceedings (by phone)
  •  Set up payment plans (by phone only)
  • Electronically pay child support and alimony (online)
  • Sign up to receive text and/or email alerts about court dates (online at enotify.flcourts.org)
  • Mail traffic school completion certificates to P.O. Box 9000, Drawer CC-10, Bartow, FL 33831-9000

Clerk Drop Desk for Document Processing

We are offering a Clerk Drop Desk at the Bartow courthouse and our Lakeland and Northeast branch locations for document processing. This drop point serves as a place where customers provide us with the documents that they need to be processed, such as Notice of Commencements. Once processed, we will return the documents to the customer by mail or make available for retrieval at the Clerk Drop Desk.

Keeping with social distancing advisements, a six-foot distance will be maintained between Clerk staff and customers. We ask that customers who use this option to please follow these steps:

1. Customers will drop off their documents at the designated Clerk Drop Desk in the Bartow courthouse location only.
2. Please attach a cover letter that describes the matter of your business. Also, please provide us with your contact information: name, telephone number, email and mailing address for where documents should be returned to.
3. Note in your letter if you need a certified copy immediately. We will call you when the copy is ready, and you can come back to the Clerk Drop Desk to retrieve it.
4. If applicable, payments must be made by check, cashier’s check, or money order to Polk County Clerk of Courts. Please include any applicable account numbers on your cover letter.

Please note, the Chief Judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit has ordered that “Any person, regardless of status, who is exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or any person who has knowingly been in contact with another person who is suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 virus, is prohibited from entering any court facility. Court Bailiffs and local Sheriff Deputies are hereby granted the authority to screen and eject persons from courtrooms, courthouses, or court facilities in accordance with this Administrative Order.”


Court Hearing Updates

If you are attending a court hearing via virtual means, please click here for the virtual/video courtroom appearance instructions.

For more details about court cancellations and scheduling, contact the 10th Judicial Circuit or go to their website at http://www.jud10.flcourts.org/.

 The Honorable Ellen S. Masters, Chief Judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit, released Administrative Order 1-53.2 that further addresses emergency court operations related to COVID-19 (coronavirus).

This Administrative Order shall be effective immediately and shall remain in effect until further notice or until superseded by further order of this Court or the Florida Supreme Court.

The changes for Polk County courts are as follows:

Non-Essential Proceedings Suspended / Essential Proceedings are not Suspended

No proceedings or other court events other than essential proceedings and proceedings critical to the state of emergency or public health emergency shall be conducted through in-person hearings until such time as the public health emergency is resolved, or as provided by subsequent order.

Essential proceedings include, but are not limited to:

  • First appearance
  • Criminal arraignments, as necessary
  • Hearings on motions to set or modify monetary bail for individuals who are in custody
  • Juvenile dependency shelter hearings
  • Juvenile delinquency detention hearings
  • Hearings on petitions for temporary injunctions relating to safety of an individual
  • Hearings on petitions for risk protection orders
  • Hearings on petitions for the appointment of an emergency temporary guardian
  • Hearings to determine whether an individual should be involuntarily committed under the Baker Act or the Marchman Act
  • Hearings on petitions for extraordinary writs as necessary to protect constitutional rights
  • Critical proceedings related to the state of emergency or the public health emergency, include, but are not limited to proceedings related to:
  • Violation of quarantine or isolation
  • Violation of orders to limit travel
  • Violation of orders to close public or private building
  • Enforcement of curfew orders

Misdemeanor and Felony Cases

  • All jail transports for jail arraignments and jail VOP arraignments are suspended. In the event that the assigned judge determines that the inmate’s presence is required, the proceeding may be postponed for no more than 24-hours to have the inmate transported.
  • Criminal court pretrial conferences and street arraignments are suspended and shall be rescheduled to a date no sooner than June 1, 2020.
  • Criminal court status conferences are suspended until further order of the Court.
  • First appearance hearings, felony and misdemeanor jail arraignments, and hearings on motions to set or modify release conditions for individuals who are in jail in Polk, Hardee, and Highlands Counties will be conducted using video equipment The Office of the Court Administrator for the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court is tasked with providing the parties and/or their attorneys, and any other necessary court participant, with instructions regarding how to attend remotely. These instructions will be made available on the Tenth Circuit Court’s website (www.jud10.flcourts.org).

Juvenile Dependency Cases:

  • Shelter hearings must not be postponed. However, shelter hearings may be handled by telephone if deemed appropriate by the assigned judge. The presence of children at shelter hearings is waived through close of business on Friday, May 29, 2020
  • Judicial reviews, motion hearings, and other dependency hearings shall be postponed unless the assigned judge determines that the named proceeding may take place using remote technology such that no in-person communication occurs. Postponed hearings shall not be rescheduled to occur before June 1, 2020.

Juvenile Delinquency Cases:

  • Due to ongoing efforts to minimize the spread of COVID-19, the April 13 Juvenile Delinquency Collection Enforcement Court Hearing has been rescheduled to June 8 at 9 a.m.
  • Delinquency detention hearings must not be postponed. However, detention hearings may be held remotely if deemed appropriate by the assigned judge. Transport of juveniles for delinquency detention hearings is suspended. The juvenile will appear telephonically unless the assigned judge determines that the juvenile’s presence is critical for the proceeding.
  • Risk Protection Orders (RPOs): RPO proceedings must not be suspended. However, the final hearing may be postponed by the assigned judge in those instances where legally appropriate. Further, compliance hearings may be postponed to the final hearing if the assigned judge deems such continuance of a compliance hearing to be necessary.
  • Baker Acts: Baker Act proceedings must not be suspended. However, the presiding judicial officer shall take necessary steps to practice social distancing in order to minimize potential exposure to COVID-19. In the event that a hearing must be held concerning whether an individual must be involuntarily committed, such hearings may take place at hospitals or by telephone if deemed appropriate by the judicial officer.
  • Marchman Act: In the event that a hearing must be held concerning whether an individual, including a juvenile, must be involuntarily committed, such hearings may take place by telephone if deemed appropriate by the judicial officer. The judicial officer shall take necessary steps to practice social distancing in order to minimize potential exposure to COVID-19.

Domestic Relations and Civil Cases:

  • The public will be permitted access to the offices of the Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller in order to file petitions for temporary injunctions pursuant to Chapter 741 (domestic violence) and Chapter 784 (dating, stalking, repeat, and sexual violence).

Hearings on petitions for temporary injunctions pursuant to Chapter 741 (domestic violence) and Chapter 784 (dating, stalking, repeat, and sexual violence) shall not be suspended, but may be continued if deemed appropriate by the assigned judge. The hearings shall be held remotely unless the assigned judge determines that an in-person hearing is required. Scheduled domestic relations and civil proceedings that have not been deemed essential or critical may occur without delay, provided that the proceeding involves no in-person contact.

Appointment of Emergency Guardian

All hearings on petitions for the appointment of an emergency temporary guardian may be held remotely if deemed appropriate by the assigned judge.

Problem Solving Court

All hearings in Problem Solving Court cases (Felony PADC; Misdemeanor PADC; Juvenile Drug Court; Young Adult Drug Court; DUI; Behavioral Health Court; and Veteran’s Court) are continued until June 1, 2020.

Writs of Possession and Evictions:

 

AOSC20-17 suspends “the requirement in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.580(a) for the clerk to issue a writ of possession “forthwith”. Each Sheriff of the Tenth Judicial Circuit is authorized to stay execution of writs of possession and orders directing removal of tenants through eviction proceedings that were issued by the Court prior to entry of AOSC20-17.

 

Public Health Violations

  • Section 381.00315(1)(c), Florida Statutes, provides that “[t]he State Health Officer, upon declaration of a public health emergency, may take actions that are necessary to protect the public health.” These actions include, but are not limited to, ordering an individual to be isolated or quarantined. “Any order of the State Health Officer given to effectuate this paragraph shall be immediately enforceable by law enforcement under s. 381.0012.” § 381.00315(1)(c)4, Fla. Stat.
  • Any person who violates any rule adopted under section 381.00315, Florida Statutes, any isolation or quarantine, or any requirement adopted by the Department of Health in accordance with a declared public health emergency, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree. See 381.00315(6), Fla. Stat. Due to the danger to the public health for such a violation, the bond amount shall be set at “no bond.” See Varholy v. Sweat, 15 So. 2d 267 (Fla. 1943) (“To grant release on bail to persons isolated and detained on a quarantine order because they have a contagious disease which makes them dangerous to others, or to the public in general, would render quarantine laws and regulations nugatory and of no avail.”). This provision does not preclude the judge presiding at first appearance hearings from modifying the “no bond” status if appropriate.

Continuance of Fines and/or Court Costs in County Criminal Cases and Non-Criminal Traffic Violations

The Clerks of Court may, without request, extend the time for the payment of fines and/or costs imposed in county criminal cases for a period of sixty (60) days and for non-criminal traffic violations for a period of one hundred-twenty (120) days. This is a special limited exception to Administrative Order 7-16.0, In Re: Continuances of Fines and/or Court Costs, entered on March 20, 2020.

Other Proceedings

All other proceedings not referenced herein must not occur in-person; however, the assigned judge or judicial officer may conduct any proceedings by electronic communication as long as the parties or their counsel have the technical capacity to do so. It is up to the parties to reschedule any proceedings that have been stayed, cancelled, or postponed.

Court Facility Access

Public access to court facilities is limited to litigants or court participants. Spectators and family members who are not court participants may not attend proceedings until emergency conditions pass.

Any person, regardless of status, who is exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or any person who has knowingly been in contact with another person who is suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 virus, is prohibited from entering any court facility. Court Bailiffs and local Sheriff Deputies are hereby granted the authority to screen and eject persons from courtrooms, courthouses, or court facilities in accordance with this Administrative Order.


Jury Duty

The Florida Supreme Court has issued an order extending the suspension of jury trials and jury duty through July 2, 2020. Jury trials and jury duty were previously suspended through May 29.

Anyone with a summons to report prior to July 2 SHOULD NOT report for duty. There is no need to request an excusal or postponement while jury is suspended.

Updates will be shared here, on the juror hotline at 863-534-4582, and on the Polk County Clerk Facebook page. Updates will be shared on www.polkcountyclerk.net, the Juror Hotline 863-534-4582, the Polk County Clerk Facebook page.

You can view information about the Supreme Court Order here https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/News-Media/Court-News/Chief-Justice-issues-emergency-order-expanding-remote-hearings-and-suspending-jury-trials-into-early-July-statewide

 


Foreclosure Sales and Evictions

Governor Ron Desantis issued Executive Order 20-121 extending the suspension of mortgage foreclosures and eviction related to non-payment of rent by residential tenants until June 2, 2020.

Clarification: Only foreclosure sales are canceled, foreclosure hearings are NOT canceled.


Marriage/Passports

Marriage

MARRIAGE SERVICES AND DROP DESK UPDATE: Starting on Monday, May 11, the Clerk’s office will resume marriage ceremonies at all three locations. The Lakeland and Winter Haven branches will also resume marriage license applications. County buildings in both locations have been opened by the Board of County Commissioners, however the Clerk’s office remains closed to walk-in customers at this time.

The following guidelines apply to all couples seeking a marriage license or marriage ceremony:

  1. Couples must call to make an appointment both to apply for a marriage license AND to make an appointment for a marriage ceremony at 863-534-4000. Appointments are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  2. While making the appointment via telephone, you need to have the following information for both parties:
    a. Names
    b. Addresses
    c. Phone numbers
    d. Dates of Birth
    e. Birthplaces (State or Foreign Country)
    f. Social Security numbers
    g. Number of marriages
    h. Date last marriage ended (Month/Day/Year), reason (divorce, death, etc.)
    i. Maiden name
    j. Does couple have minor child or children in common born in the State of Florida
  3. For marriage license application appointments, the couples will need to have the following for both individuals at the time of the appointment:
    a. IDs – either a Driver’s License or Passport
    b. Premarital Course Certificate, if applicable
  4. For the safety of our staff and the couples receiving marriage services, only the individuals getting married will be allowed into the building for marriage licenses and marriage ceremonies. Additionally, marriage ceremonies will be performed by Clerk employees from behind the customer service window rather than the marriage ceremony room.

If you have any questions you can reach our office at 863-534-4000.

*Please note, all customers who enter the building undergo a verbal health screening prior to being permitted to enter.

Passports

In alignment with the U.S. Department of State’s closure of passport agencies, the Clerk’s office is suspending passport application services.


Protection Orders/Probate

Injunction for Protection Procedures

We have established new procedures for those seeking an Injunction for Protection during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. These procedures will help to protect the public and Clerk staff by limiting the amount of in-person contact needed to file an injunction. Visit the Domestic Violence page for full details.

Probate

Procedure for filing for an Injunction for Protection Against Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult Procedures During COVID-19: The petitioner in Injunction for Protection against Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult cases will fill out the packet available on the Guardianship page our website and at the Clerk Drop Desk. Make sure each document is properly notarized by either a notary or ask an employee from our Probate department to verify your photo ID and then provide your signature. These cases are only handled in the Polk County Courthouse in Bartow and the main number is 863-534-4494 or 863-534-4485. You will be notified when a court date has been scheduled. Please ensure you have a phone number listed as your hearing could be heard telephonically.

If you are only filing to dismiss or modify the Petition, you will follow the procedure above to ensure each form is properly notarized. Once a court date has been scheduled we will notify you.

Probate will place the petitioner’s order and a cover sheet in a manila envelope. On the outside of the manila envelope will be the petitioner's name and a reminder that a photo ID is required.

Once the petitioner shows their photo ID to the clerk at the Clerk Drop Desk, the clerk will give the petitioner the envelope.

If the petitioner has any questions about the judge’s answer, they are to call the Clerk of Court Probate Department at 863-534-4494 or 863-534-4485.


CHILD SUPPORT INFORMATION 

There are several new procedures in place for customers with child support cases:

Child Support Payment Option Procedures During Covid-19

Customers that need to submit Child Support Payment Option forms can now drop off their completed forms and voided check or letter from their bank with necessary information at the Clerk Drop Desk at the Bartow Courthouse for processing. Payment option forms are available at the Drop Desk and on our website’s Family Law page. If the Department of Revenue is involved in your case, please see the pamphlet called CHILD SUPPORT PROGRAM located at the Clerk Drop Desk and follow the instructions. Forms are available at the Clerk Drop Desk as well as on the Clerk’s website in the Family Law Miscellaneous document section.

Petition To Contest Notice Of Intent To Suspend Driver’s License And Motion To Contest Impending Judgement Procedures During Covid-19

Customers needing to file a petition to contest notice of intent to suspend driver’s license or a motion to contest impending judgment procedures during COVID-19 can bring their completed forms to the Clerk Drop Desk at the Bartow Courthouse to be processed. Forms are available at the Clerk Drop Desk as well as on the Clerk’s website in the Family Law Miscellaneous document section.

At this time you are not required to have the form notarized. There is no fee for filing. Please make sure the correct case number is listed. Once dropped off, your motion will be scanned to the case number provided and sent to the Hearing Officer for review. Once a hearing is scheduled the courts will notify you of a court date. Please be sure you have your current address and phone number listed. You will need to provide a copy to the Department of Revenue. (include links to appropriate pages for forms)

Affidavit Requesting Suspension Of Driver’s License Or Registration Procedures During Covid-19

Customers needing to file an affidavit to request suspension of a driver’s license or registration during COVID-19 can do so at the Clerk Drop Desk located at the Bartow Courthouse. Forms are available on the Clerk’s website in the Family Law section of our documents page and on-site at the Clerk Drop Desk. Once the affidavit is filled out, the petitioner will drop off the form at the Drop Desk. At this time the form does not require notarization. There is no fee for filing. Please make sure you have the correct case number listed. Once filed at the Drop Desk, the clerk will review the case to determine if the case is delinquent. There is no further action required from the petitioner. Forms are available at the Clerk Drop Desk as well as on the Clerk’s website in the Family Law Miscellaneous document section.


Tax Deed Sales

The Polk County Clerk’s office will proceed with the scheduled tax deed sales. Bidders can submit both deposits and payments by wire transfer by following the instructions on the Realauction website at  www.polk.realtaxdeed.com .   If you choose not to utilize the wire transfer the Clerk’s office has a drop box set up at the entrance of the Bartow Courthouse.  You will need to obtain a cashier’s check from your bank made payable to the Polk County Clerk of Courts.  Place the check in a sealed envelope with a cover letter stating your bidder number and phone number. Write Tax Deeds on the outside of the envelope.  Call (863) 534-4000 for additional information. The payment deadline is 11:00 a.m. or within 24 hours on Friday, May 22, 2020.


Parenting in Domestic Relations Cases During COVID-19

The 10th Judicial Circuit released Administrative Order No. 5-52.0 related to Emergency Temporary Standing Order regarding Parenting in Domestic Relations Cases during COVID-19. The order addresses contact with both parents, shared parenting, suspension of writs of bodily attachment for contempt hearings related to non-payment of child support or alimony, and emergency motions and expedited hearing procedures at this time. The order can be viewed below. If you need legal advice you may contact the attorney of your choice or one of the following: Legal Aid (863) 519-5663 or Lawyer Referral Service 1-800-370-4114.