The last time Pasco Clerk & Comptroller Nikki Alvarez-Sowles spoke with the East Pasco Networking Group (EPNG), she vowed to make various technological and customer service upgrades to the agency’s website and operations.
Less than a year later, some of those goals have been achieved.
A recent addition to the clerk’s website is e-Notify, a new statewide alert system to stay informed about upcoming hearings, trials and other criminal court events.
Users who sign up for the service receive email or text alerts on upcoming events, with options to get reminders 14 days, seven days or a day ahead of time.
The program works similar to the way individuals receive electronic reminders for upcoming doctor’s appointments “except it relates to cases,” said Alvarez-Sowles, who led a virtual video presentation with the networking group last month.
The e-Notify system is not just for parties and attorneys, but the public and media, as well. “It is open to the world,” she quipped.
In addition to providing information on an appearance date, time and location, it also alerts when a defendant or witness doesn’t show for a particular event, said Alvarez-Sowles, who became the eighth Pasco County Clerk & Comptroller last August, filling out the balance of term for the retiring Paula S. O’ Neil.
There is no limit to the number of cases users can sign up to get notifications, and users can manage their alert subscriptions and make changes to the number of followed cases and frequency of alert.
In addition to e-Notify, the clerk’s office also has installed bolded tabs at the bottom of its website for “highly sought after information,” such as marriage licenses, property auctions, juror information, e-Filing and legal resource center services, to ease in searches.
Alvarez-Sowles also talked about the agency’s online property fraud alert system.
That alert system helps protect a person’s property from fraud by monitoring documents, such as liens, deeds and mortgages that are recorded in Pasco County.
It provides peace of mind because property owners know that their property is being monitored against the filing of fraudulent documents in their name.
Alvarez-Sowles put it like this: “If someone records a document in the official record with my name on it, I am going to get an email or phone call telling me that a document was recorded with my name on it, and give me the information so that I can go and look.”
The clerk explained there’s “a lot of fraud going on in our official record” — detailing how many fraudsters file quitclaim deeds on someone’s property then sell it to another party “so you no longer own your property on public record.”
To drive the point home, the speaker shared a heart-wrenching story about a Miami area woman who was homeless for seven months after swindlers used forged quitclaim deeds to sell her home to an investment firm, leading to her eviction.
“Our home or business we own is probably the largest asset that we will own, and we need to protect it,” she said.
All sorts of information available online
The website also offers online searches for court records.
The public can do anonymous criminal background checks on Pasco County-based businesses and residents. There’s also specific lookups for animal abuse cases, high-profile cases, mental health cases and others.
For example, you can search a person or business name and see lawsuits and criminal and civil charges, among other court records.
Alvarez-Sowles explained the database provides a way for citizens to vet doctors, lawyers, building construction, housecleaning, landscaping and other service providers.
It also can be used to research a new neighbor moving in, to see if they have a prior record in the county, she said.
To underscore the feature’s significance, Alvarez-Sowles shared a news story of two maids who’d been charged with stealing electronics and a firearm from a Cape Coral area home they were hired to clean.
A simple court records search in Lee County likely would have revealed each of the individuals criminal history, she said.
“Just think of any services people are providing, you can go and protect yourselves by going and looking at our records online,” she told the networking group.
On a related note, Alvarez-Sowles said she’s collaborating with other county clerks to get permission from the Florida Supreme Court to consolidate court records statewide for public consumption. That would allow for individuals to search a person or business name and see all court records cases from all Florida counties simultaneously and not require individual searches of each county.
Such a system currently is only accessible by the courts, law enforcement, state attorneys and public defenders.
Alvarez-Sowles said one her next big initiatives will be to expand online payments through the clerk’s website. Currently, citizens can pay traffic tickets and child support online, but she’s working to make it possible to pay court fines, fees and infractions online.
“I want it so that you can pay anything that you owe online, without having to come in (the office),” she said.
She’s also looking to contract with Amscot to accept payments on behalf of the clerk’s office, to assist individuals who don’t have bank accounts.
“To be honest, in Pasco County there’s a lot of people that don’t have bank accounts and they just live on cash, so having a place like Amscot for them to go is also very helpful, so that is a work in progress,” the clerk said.
For additional information about the clerk’s services, visit PascoClerk.com.
Office of the Pasco Clerk & Comptroller
By the numbers — for 2019
- 220,000 official documents recorded
- 88,000 cases filed
- 31,000 jurors summoned
- 6,500 passports issued
- 2,500 marriage licenses issues
Published May 20, 2020