Brenda Forman. Photo: Melanie Bell

 

The Fourth District Court of Appeal released a two-page opinion to “disapprove of a practice in the Broward County Clerk’s office.”

The ruling came Wednesday after a pro se defendant, Kenneth Carl Guy, pointed out that the clerk filed documents showing a ruling against him five hours before the judge actually entered the order.

The issue affects the appellate window for parties to challenge a ruling because the clock starts running once the clerk’s office receives the file.

Broward litigants have complained to the Daily Business Review for more than three years alleging fraud in handling of docket entries in the office of Clerk of Court Brenda Forman, who was elected in November 2016 to succeed her husband Howard Forman.

The Fourth DCA’s order appears to offer some insight. It came after Guy noticed a discrepancy in his court file.

Guy was representing himself in a foreclosure lawsuit by Plaza Home Mortgage Inc. He lost his case, and Broward Circuit Senior Judge Joel T. Lazarus entered judgment against him at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 27, 2017. But Guy noticed the clerk’s electronic stamp showed the office filed the order at 8:35 a.m., hours before the ruling.

Appellate court records show Guy filed an amended motion in January to correct the record.

On April 9, a Fourth DCA ruling pointed to another clerical slipup: a missing administrative Bates stamp in Guy’s documentation.

“The court also notes that the record filed on Dec. 18, 2017, was not Bates-stamped,” the appellate court said. “It is ordered sua sponte that the corrected/supplemental record must be Bates-stamped.”

The clerk’s office responded to Guy’s motion to correct the record by saying the time stamp reflected the time the staff scanned the document for processing in the electronic case management system.

“The clerk does not explain why the scanning would precede the entry of the judgment,” the appellate panel noted.

The lender’s court pleadings offered an explanation for the clerk’s office actions. There’s a lapse between the time judges enter orders and when the documents reach the clerk’s office, so staff stamp the rulings to match the date of final judgment. They can change the date, but the filing system reflects the actual scanning time — a combination that played out with Guy’s documentation.

“We write to express our disapproval of the practice of the backdating of judgments for docketing purposes,” Fourth DCA Judges Martha C. Warner, Robert M. Gross and Spencer D. Levine wrote in an unsigned opinion. “It can cause, at best, confusion, and at worst, a loss of appellate rights.”

The period for filing an appeal starts on the rendition date, the day the clerk receives a signed and written order.

“The time for appeal runs from the date of rendition, not the date the judgment is signed,” the appellate judges wrote. “By backdating the electronic filing stamp, the clerk changes the rendition date, possibly to the prejudice of an appellant.”

The process did not affect Guy’s appellate rights, so the court denied the parts of his motion addressing backdating.

“We nevertheless disapprove of this practice as it is inconsistent with the appellate rules,” the panel concluded.

Clerk’s Office Chief Operating Office Dian S. Diaz could not say Thursday how the agency intended to alter its practices.

“We were provided the order very late yesterday,” she said. “Therefore, the opinion is currently under review.”