Duties and Responsibilities
The County Clerk is one of several independently elected officials provided by the Washington State Constitution (Article IV, Section 26), with specific and special duties assigned by statute, local and state court rules.
The position of the County Clerk is best characterized as the administrative and financial officer of the Superior Court. The purpose of the office of County clerk is to ensure a separation of powers among the three branches of government by preserving the integrity of the judiciary.
This purpose is accomplished in three ways:
By being independent of the judicial branch, the Clerk protects the judiciary from the appearance of impropriety or unfairness in the setting of cases, implementation of orders, or investment of funds; The Clerk is located in the Executive Branch of government and provides the avenue for external oversight of the judiciary without interference with its actions, integrity or independence; As an independent elected official, the Clerk preserves for the public unfettered access to a fair, accurate and independently established record of the opinions, decisions and judgments of the court.
Specific functions of the County Clerk include:
Administrator of court records and exhibits: All documents presented in a superior court cause of action must be received and processed by the Clerk. The processing of court documents involves record classification, assignment of cause number, computerized docketing, indexing and scanning in the Odyssey (official court record database), case and document management system. Records must be maintained, retained, and purged in accordance with statutory time constraints, and required archival standards.
Financial Officer of the Courts: As the court's agent, the Clerk collects statutory fees, fines, trust funds and support funds; maintains a trust account for monies ordered by the Court; and the Clerk further provides an investment plan for monies held. The collection, accounting and investment of court monies are done to ensure that the interest of the public and the county are secured.
Quasi-judicial Officer: For the issuance of writs, subpoenas, and other court-related orders, the Clerk serves a quasi-judicial (to exercise discretion of judicial nature) role. Examples: reviewing court documents for possible errors; performing acts required by law; issuing letters testamentary; warrants (civil and criminal); and writs of execution, garnishment, attachments, restitution and orders of sale.
Ex Officio Clerk of the Court: Under the Washington State Constitution, the Clerk has the title of "ex officio clerk of the Superior court." This requires the Clerk's presence at all court sessions for the purpose of receiving and recording court documents and exhibits; and to establish independent records of court proceedings for the public.
Justice System Administrator: In this role, the Clerk identifies and articulates the changing needs of court records processing; of the storage, retrieval and disposal of documents, records and exhibits; and of the collection, accounting and investment of court monies to ensure that the interests of the public and the county are secured.
Departmental Administrator: As the administrator of a county department, the Clerk has the responsibility to establish office policies, budgets and procedures in accordance with the established guidelines and policies of the Board of County Commissioners.
In Franklin County, the Clerk is the appointed Jury Commissioner for the courts in the county and serves as an agent of the Federal Government for accepting passport applications.
A courthouse facilitator program that provides procedural assistance to litigants representing themselves in family court matters is also under the direction of the County Clerk in Franklin County.
The origins of the Clerk's Office extend into early English history. In times past, the custody of court records was entrusted to one of the judges. However, it soon became apparent that the judge alone was unable to preside over the argument, record the proceedings and issue writs. Consequently, the Office of the Clerk of Courts was created. Subordinate judicial officials were chosen from among the clergy, the only literate group at the time. Thus, the name clerk is derived from the Latin clericus meaning clergyman. In the English colonies, officers of the common pleas courts were known as county clerks, a title utilized in most states today.
*The legal duties of the elected county clerk are identified in Chapter 36.23 Revised Code of Washington and Article IV, Section 26 of the Washington State Constitution.