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COMMENTARY: Culpeper clerk of court tasked with many responsibilities
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COMMENTARY: Culpeper clerk of court tasked with many responsibilities

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Culpeper County Courthouse with winter ice in trees

Winter ice frosts tree branches at the historic Culpeper County Courthouse, seat of the judicial system and hub of many essential government functions.

Culpeper County will hold a special election on March 30. As of this writing, at least two individuals have announced their candidacy for the position.

Since a large percentage of the county’s eligible voters are expected to take part, I share what I have learned about the importance of the position and summarize the duties of the office. What follows is taken from information provided by the Virginia Court Clerks’ Association.

While the term “clerk” often brings to mind someone dedicated to filing records and performing other general tasks, the clerk of court is responsible for a vastly more complex and sophisticated array of duties that keep the county functioning and serving its residents.

In fact, the VCCA says that a comprehensive list of the clerk’s duties would include more than 800 items—most of which directly affect each one of us. The VCCA breaks these into nine broad areas: public safety, court services, recorder of deeds, probate judge, court case custodian, public services, historic records preservation, election ballot keeper, and law library maintenance.

The clerk takes custody of all ballots after election results are certified.

The clerk issues marriage licenses and processes notary public commissions and business name applications, issues witness subpoenas and concealed-handgun permits, and administers public office oaths.

The clerk records and retains land records, including deeds, collects the associated fees, and ensures public access to these documents.

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The clerk prepares criminal court orders, summonses and legal service of process, arrest authorizations, and other judicial documents. He maintains all court files and assembles juries for circuit court trials.

The clerk records all circuit court cases, including contract disputes, claims of negligence, criminal cases, divorce proceedings, land disputes, adoptions, requests for name changes, and court judgments, among others.

The clerk acts as judge for those last wills and testaments presented for probate by authenticating the will, conducting needed hearings, appointing executors, and preparing legal documents and orders regarding the estate. The clerk collects estate taxes.

The clerk consults with prosecutors and law enforcement, assembles grand juries, collects fines, and records criminal felony cases, misdemeanor appeal cases, and criminal indictments. He (or she) provides conviction and incarceration information to the Virginia Department of Corrections, probation and parole agencies, the State Police, and other agencies.

The clerk prepares criminal court orders, summonses and legal service of process, arrest authorizations, and other judicial documents. He maintains all court files and assembles juries for circuit court trials.

The clerk qualifies and appoints guardians for minors and incapacitated adults.

The clerk is also the custodian of the county’s historical records (for example, George Washington’s original last will and testament lies in the custody of the Fairfax County clerk of the Circuit Court) and makes them available for public inspection.

Finally, the clerk of the circuit court is required to maintain a law library for the free use of the general public. The library is sustained by a fee charged whenever a new lawsuit is filed with the court.

Thus, the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court touches almost every aspect of a resident’s life, from early childhood through the affairs of their heirs. Consider carefully when casting your vote in this special election.

Daniel Else, a retired Congressional Research Service policy analyst and Navy veteran, lives in Culpeper.

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