Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Carmel on the Case: Clerk of Courts
The Broward Clerk of Courts office made a pricey mistake and released money to the wrong person. It could have cost a Pompano Beach businessman his livelihood. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the Case.
WSVN -- Like so many business owners, Richard Leiberman is struggling these days.
Richard Leiberman: "The economy is horrific, and every dollar that is earned is spent to survive."
He says he's barely able to keep his auto repair shop open. While we were there, a notice came in from FPL that the power was about be turned off.
Ironic since, in reality, Richard should have money to pay his bills, but the government gave it away.
Richard Leiberman: "I'm unable to survive because the government is holding me back."
Richard was due $14,670.05 from a dispute over a car that he repaired. The money was paid by the car owner to the Clerk of Courts. It was up to a judge to decide who would get the money. In the end, the judge sided with Richard, and the Clerk's Office was supposed to release the money to him.
Richard Leiberman: "The money being held in escrow by the Clerk of Courts was to pay the rent here to my landlord who wants to evict me."
But before he could collect his money, the Clerk of Courts Office gave the money to the losing party
Richard Leiberman: "I lost because the County Clerk said that they gave the money to the defendant by mistake, and I can't get the money from them."
Richard Leiberman: "I was in shock."
He says he was told by an attorney for the Clerk's Office, the money was gone, and he was out of luck.
Richard Leiberman: "They're saying I can't sue a government agency. I didn't even have the money to sue them anymore."
Even though it was a mistake by the Clerk of Courts Office, Richard says he was told he'd have to try to recover the money on his own.
Howard Forman: "The money went to the wrong party. The first time I've ever heard of that happening, but it happens."
Shortly after we started asking questions, the Clerk's Office reversed itself and wrote out a check to Richard for the full amount.
Howard Forman: "We don't make too many mistakes, but you know this was an anomaly. It was out there, and I think by the time my staff digested everything, they thought he would get the money from the other source."
Richard Leiberman, meanwhile, is relived to finally have his check, but he says the whole experience has damaged his trust in government.
Carmel Cafiero: "So what about the guy who got the cash? Forman says his office is looking at taking legal action against him."
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