The 300-plus-year-old Philadelphia Clerk of Quarter Sessions Office formally died Tuesday as Mayor Nutter signed legislation abolishing its powers and duties.
The move represented "one more tangible piece of proof that government can be reformed," the mayor said, emphasizing his pledge to make city government more efficient and transparent. The office was one of four city offices led by independently elected officials.
While the office no longer exists, there are no immediate cost savings. Its functions are being carried out by the First Judicial District, which took control of the clerk's duties in April.
The clerk's office was responsible for maintaining court records, staffing courtrooms, and collecting bail money and fines in criminal cases.
Under its elected leader, Vivian T. Miller, the office was dogged by a long record of poor performance, with government auditors faulting its handling of millions of dollars in bail, fines, and court fees, including delays in paying the city and state their shares of those funds.
Miller resigned from her $117,991-a-year job March 31 under pressure from the Nutter administration.
With the First Judicial District, another name for the city's court system, overseeing operations since then, about $1.1 million more than last year has been collected in bail money forfeited by defendants who skipped trial, said Pamela Pryor Dembe, president judge of Common Pleas Court. In all, about $1 billion remains uncollected in forfeited bail from the last three decades.
Dembe also said the courts had begun distributing $54 million that had been in a bank account at the clerk's office, with no records indicating to whom the money belonged.
Prothonotary Joseph H. Evers, who took command of Miller's staff, could not say precisely how many dollars had so far been distributed from that account, but he said a portion of it was restitution for crime victims.
Although the office was being disbanded, the number of clerk-related employees has grown in the last few months, from 91 to 106. The increase represents vacant positions that had not been filled, the mayor said.
The need to do so, Dembe said, is largely driven by the coming shift in how the city's courts are structured, with courtrooms organized into geographical zones that match police districts.
While some of the office's overall spending was difficult to trace, a financial review by the accounting firm Ernst & Young turned up nothing illegal, Dembe said.
Evers estimated it would take about two years to correct past financial problems and implement a smooth system: "It can't go anywhere but up, right?"