Editor’s note: This is one in a series of question and answer articles about local candidates running for office. The Northern Virginia Daily asked candidates three questions. The unedited responses are below.
The seat for Warren County Circuit Court clerk is open in a special election as former Clerk Darryl Funk vacated his seat after being named a juvenile and domestic relations court judge. Stephen Jerome is running against Angie Moore and Janice Shanks.
How does your job experience make you the best-fit candidate for the job?
Since 2003 when I started practicing law in Warren County, I have been a frequent user of the services of the circuit court clerk's office and have interacted with the clerks and deputy clerks on a regular basis. Litigating cases before circuit courts, assisting clients with probate, guardianships, real estate transactions and title searches, among other matters, requires not only knowledge of the law and court procedure, but also many of the services and duties of the circuit court clerk. As a practicing attorney, I also have experience dealing with circuit court clerk offices from various counties in the vicinity of Warren County, as well as other attorneys and title companies who frequent the clerk’s office.
My experiences using the circuit courts’ services and working with the clerks and others within and without the legal community gives me a unique perspective and understanding of what the most frequent users of the office need and expect. That network can be used to solicit honest feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the services of the clerk’s office in order to help improve those services.
My legal education, knowledge, training and experience working in a small business enhances my ability to quickly learn and to identify and resolve problems. Representing clients has given me experience managing time, staff and resources while being sensitive to costs and expenses. As an attorney I know what it means to work under high-pressure circumstances within court ordered deadlines and strict rules of evidence all while being accountable to a paying client. I will apply my education, skills and experience to serving the public as the circuit court clerk.
What services does the clerk’s office provide and how do you plan to improve those services?
The circuit court clerk’s office is the custodian of all circuit court criminal and civil records. The clerk is responsible for providing public access to most court files and assisting the public in locating those records. The records maintained in the clerk’s office include last wills and testaments, deeds, deeds of trust, rights of way and other land records, judgments, financing statements, marriage licenses, divorces, adoptions, commissioner bonds, guardian bonds, and the bonds and oaths of elected officials.
Other services of the clerk’s office include, among other services:
• The direct administrative support to the judges in court proceedings;
• The issuance of witness subpoenas;
• Assembling jurors to sit for a jury trial in the circuit court and assembling the grand jury that hears testimony on criminal indictments;
• managing jury operations and issuing juror questionnaires to establish a qualified jury pool, issuing jury summons for jury trials, preparing jury lists, providing a comprehensive juror orientation and coordinating the needs of citizens who report for jury duty;
• Retaining all deeds and land records recorded since the inception of the county;
• Acting as a probate judge when a last will and testament is presented for legal probate of an estate;
• The qualification of guardians for minors or incapacitated adults;
• Issuing marriage licenses and concealed handgun permits;
• Processing notary public commissions and fictitious name applications of businesses; and
• Maintaining a law library for the general public.
How I plan to improve the foregoing services is outlined in the goals I wish to accomplish as the next clerk.
If elected, what goals do you hope to accomplish?
I am committed to being honest, transparent, accessible and accountable while providing professional services to the public. I will show up, work hard, learn, improve what I can and will treat everyone fairly and with respect.
That being said, if elected I will strengthen the cross training of the deputy clerks so that absences due to vacations, illness, etc. do not drastically impact the efficiency and timeliness of services. In addition to the intra-office cross training, I will ensure that the deputy clerks get the maximum amount of training offered. Enhanced training will translate into better efficiency in the delivery of services to the public.
I also want to establish better communication with the local bar, local title companies and the community in order to help identify the services that are in most need of improvement. Likewise, I want better communication with the community about the court’s schedule changes and the services of the clerk’s office. I plan to explore the feasibility of an updated website to help improve the communication of information to the public. There are many small efficiencies that can save the county money and increase productivity that we can implement, through technology and process improvement.
Finally, I hope to expand access to the office’s public records by electronic mean.