Q & A with Chief Deputy Circuit Clerk Judy Nelson

Steve Gonzalez Jan. 14, 2005, 3:53am

The Circuit Clerk’s office prides itself on its superior customer service. What keeps the staff motivated to perform at a high level? Who sets the tone?

The nature of the work at the office is to deal with heavy volumes of work against constant and pressing deadlines. Focus, concentration, accuracy, proficiency, and alertness are part and parcel of a what every clerk needs daily to perform the work.

The tone is set by the Circuit Clerk, who emphasizes courteousness, prompt customer service, public accountability and professional behavior by employees. With a constantly growing case load and limited space and staff, it requires constant vigilance by management and line employees.

Court dates are reset often, and notices to all parties must be made in a timely fashion. Hundreds of files are worked up everyday in every division here. A mistake can lead to disastrous consequences. Demand at the counter is usually pressing throughout the day, and many visitors are uninformed about the court process.

Clerks are limited by law in what they can do to assist members of the public. Judgment and professionalism are constantly required of each clerk, along with tact and diplomacy. This and other factors at the office keep everyone on his/her toes.

When changes--such as fee increases--are implemented, how disruptive is it to your work flow?

Changes can be managed, depending on how much control we have over them. When federal law was changed in 1999 to require child-support payments to be made to a central depository in each state -- rather than to the Circuit Clerk's office in each local county -- it created a great deal of confusion for divorced parents and our office.

There were many problems with the state getting its system up and organized. If people had problenms with the state and their payments getting processed, they simply refused to make payments anywhere but here.

It took several years for the state to get its State Disbursement Unit (SDU) operating properly. We are still working to convince some employers, who make payroll deductions for child support, to send the payment to the SDU -- including federal government employers!

On the other hand, when the county board increased court fees late last year, we were able to publish the new fees on the clerk's web page, email a copy of the new fee book to attorneys about a month in advance of the changes, posted notices at our counters in advance, and programmed our system in advance to levy fees.

What is the most common request? What has been the most unusual?

By far the most common request at our counters is for photocopies. People have come into our Family Division and asked if we could watch their children while they took care of business. Any more unusual requests may not be fit for print.

Who is the biggest celebrity to walk through the office?

Mostly sports figures and politicians, such as Joe Kennedy, Whitey Herzong, Ken Oberkfell, Tony Twist, Ray Lankford, and attorneys such as F. Lee Bailey.

Who is the nicest, most humble reporter on the Circuit Clerk beat?
Well, in addition to Steve Gonzalez, we deal with some pretty fine and conscientious reporters. Rarely do we encounter reporters who aren't sincerely pursuing accurate information and objective delivery of facts. We are really quite impressed by how devoted the reporters who we meet are to their work and professional journalism

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