Empowering People, Enriching Communities: May – In Lee County, No Bad Deed Goes Unpunished   

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By Michael R. Davis.

Like many, I rarely considered the role the Lee County Clerk of Courts plays in our community. Typically, thoughts of community enrichment bring to mind the selfless acts of volunteers, the life-saving duties of first responders, or the educational contributions of teachers. The Clerk of Courts, known primarily for administrative tasks such as processing fees and recording documents, seemed distant from these more direct forms of community engagement. That is, until I sat down with the Clerk’s Chief Administrative Officer, John Bodner, who was happy to answer my question, “How does the Clerk help enrich the lives of people who call Lee County home?”  

Here’s what I learned. The Clerk of Courts is instrumental in ensuring judicial transparency by accurately maintaining and providing public access to court records, essential for justice and fairness. As the County Recorder, it also safeguards records such as mortgages and marriage licenses, protecting the area’s legal history and the property rights of its residents dating back to 1887. 

The Clerk of Courts also oversees the county’s finances, acting as the Chief Financial Officer to audit, invest, and wisely manage substantial tax dollars, ensuring fiscal health and responsible use of taxpayer funds. In addition to financial management, this role includes serving as the Clerk to the Board of County Commissioners, where it maintains important records and minutes, promoting transparency and accountability in government operations. 

However, a deeper look into the Clerk of Courts operations and initiatives revealed a significant impact on our community.  The Clerk’s office does much more than administrative work; it plays a crucial role in safeguarding our community. 

Real estate fraud has been a significant problem throughout Florida’s history. Criminals have been known to forge deed signatures or create fake deeds to unlawfully gain control of properties. This type of fraud has caused substantial financial damage, victimizing property owners and disrupting the real estate market. 

All Florida counties now provide free Property Alert notification systems, which alert property owners to changes in their property records, but it does not prevent fraudulent deeds from being filed. While these notification services are beneficial for early detection, they operate after the fact.  

Lee County has put in place proactive measures that set a new standard for combating real estate fraud, prioritizing prevention over mere detection.  

After months of working with legislators and advocating for changes in Florida law, the Clerk of Courts launched a new pilot program in the summer of 2023. The Property Fraud Prevention Pilot Program was introduced to specifically address and mitigate property fraud, a prevalent issue in areas with many vacant lots. This program requires that any person listed on a property deed must present valid government-issued photo identification before the document’s recording, aiming to clamp down on fraudulent activities and enhance the security of property transactions. 

Due to this advocacy for property owners, additional safeguards for property deed recordings were implemented statewide in 2024. The new rules require that each deed submitted for recording must not only have the signatures of two witnesses but must also include these witnesses’ post office addresses. This requirement is set to improve the traceability of individuals involved in property transactions and add an extra layer of verification, thereby strengthening the legal framework against potential fraud. 

As these programs evolve, their positive impacts on enhancing property transaction security and building community trust continue to grow, affirming the important work of the Clerk of Courts’ office. 

At Worthington Realty, we deeply value the importance of transparency and commend the efforts of good governance that aim to protect our community, especially against real estate fraud. The Property Fraud Prevention Pilot Program and the subsequent regulations introduced by the Clerk of Courts reflect a commitment to ensuring that our residents’ property rights and taxpayer dollars are safeguarded. These measures resonate with our core values of honesty, integrity, and being Worthy of your trust, enriching our community and setting the standard for others to follow. As we continue to serve Southwest Florida, we applaud and support these initiatives that contribute significantly to a safer, more transparent real estate environment for all Lee County residents. 

Michael Davis' headshot.

About the Author 

As one of the owners of Worthington Realty, Inc., Michael R. Davis has been a principal and facilitator in sourcing, evaluating and acquiring more than $1.3 billion in private real estate transactions and partnerships throughout his career. Originally from Leesburg, GA, he has called Fort Myers his home since 2003. With a visionary mindset, Michael plays a crucial role in shaping the culture and future vision of Worthington Realty, always fostering an atmosphere of collaboration and growth.

 

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About Worthington Realty

Founded in 1989, Worthington Realty is a boutique real estate company specializing in residential sales, rentals and development, predominantly within Lexington Country Club in Fort

Myers and surrounding communities. For more information, please call 239-437-3334 or email info@ftmyersrents.com.