U.S. legal system: significance of the Clerk of Courts?

I’m interested in a criminal case which is currently in its early stages before the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in Orange County, Florida. In order to look up court documents, one has to go to this website:


On the top of the main page, the name of the young lady who (I assume) currently holds the office of Clerk of Courts is written in bold capital letters. In addition to that, her photograph is shown twice smack in the middle of the page, as well as a welcome message by no other than her.

When you look up a court case, again, you get her name in bold, capital letters. The name of the presiding judge of a particular case, however, is included (I wouldn’t go so far as to say: buried) in small print among tons of other informations about the case. If you want to reassure yourself which court this actually is (Ninth Circuit Court), you have to open one of the court documents you just found because the name of the court isn’t even mentioned on the results page.

I’m convinced that the clerk, Ms. Tiffany Moore Russell, is exceptionally well qualified for her position and she does an outstanding job, but I do wonder why she is featured so prominently on this website. What is the role and the significance of the Clerk of Courts?

Cynically, I’d say, clerk of courts is an elective office and judgeships are not. So the clerk has to keep her name in front of the people.

Wikipedia gives a good summary of the position of Clerk of (or to) the Court in Common Law systems such as the US, England, etc.

More at the link

I kind of figured that the Clerk of Courts doesn’t actually perform clerical work and that it is in fact a senior, managerial function. I find it surprising, though, that the office is characterized by such a remarkable amount of public visibility.

It’s the web page for the clerk of course. It’s not surprising she’s featured prominently. It’s sort of like asking why Joe Biden is featured on the Vice President’s web page, because the role is less important than president.

Because the responsibility of the clerk of courts is to accurately report the details of the case. Her name goes first because she is the one responsible for any questions about the report on the case.

It carries visibility because in many jurisdictions within the United States it is an elected position. There is no other reason. The incumbent clerk will do everything possible to promote his or her visibility so as to improve chances of re-election or promotion to a higher office.

This is part of the unique and bizarre American fetish for electing scads and scads of office holders with routine clerical duties.

Don’t get me started on the prothonotary.

The joke in Canada is that the Americans even elect their dogcatchers. (Do they?)

There are vague, poorly documented cases where some American towns appear to have elected a dogcatcher. The problem is that the “office” has been a punch line for so long (since the late Nineteenth Century) that it’s hard to say whether those cases were jokes; see here.

Does it warble?

As noted above, clerks of court are elected in some U.S. states; in others they are appointed. If the former, they naturally - sometimes shamelessly - want to keep their faces and names before the public.

I know of one court where the clerk is independently elected, has been in office for a very long time (no term limits) and is not always especially responsive to the judges of that court - not an ideal situation. IMHO it’s best if the clerk is appointed by the judges and serves during good behavior. This provides some assurance that the clerk will do his or her best to follow the judges’ orders and keep them happy.

Harry Truman’s favorite government job title!

The human ones, some. The avian ones, most.

I wonder why the Clerk of Court as an independent(?) and elected office was created in this manner in the first place. Is it a checks and balances issue? Is there a fear that an evil judge could undermine the proper administration of justice and the rule of law by tampering with the court files by being allowed to boss around a clerk who is a mere underling?

To clarify a point …

An individual judge has an individual courtroom. Which has an individual clerk of the court whose job is to handle all the paperwork. This person is a simple low-level employee of the city, county or state as the case may be.

As a separate matter there is somebody who is the chief administrator of all the court rooms. And is broadly responsible for the operation of the buildings, the computers, the employees, the hiring & firing, the jury gathering process, etc. IOW, everything to do with the operation of the court system, beyond the actual legal decision-making.

So this person is an executive with a staff of just a handful in a small town or of many hundreds in a large county. All depending on the size of the jurisdiction.

This latter position is the one the OP has discovered.

As others have said, many of these are elected positions. The guiding principal is that public elections are better than having insider bureaucrats in charge who are selected solely by graft and nepotism. Whether that principle actually results in a better outcome is debatable.

I once had to file papers at the local courthouse with the prothonotary (a term only used in a few states). I commented on the term jokingly. The prothonotary then lectured me for a solid ten minutes about the importance of the office, etymology of the term, etc. I needed the paperwork done so I just stood there with a smile.

It’s not like they’d never heard the joke before. The 10,000th time somebody seeking your services opens by poking fun at you it gets old.

No dogcatcher, but I have voted for “soil and water conservation district supervisor”


Yes. It was, in Ohio at least, part of the Progressive Movement’s drive to have most government jobs - at least the heads of most major departments at the state, county and local level - directly answer to the people and not to the local political machine. What it means in practice these days, too often, is that the voters vote for familiar names regardless of the merits of the individual officeholders.

In my own jurisdiction they changed the title of the Clerk of the Court to Superintendent because of I dunno PC concerns maybe?

To the public at large, the Clerk of Court is the judicial system. That is, outside of the rare (for any one individual) instance of needing to go before a judge, almost all interactions with the judicial system is through the Clerk. And most of that interaction involves government records. Usually property or other official records. And note the Clerk (in those few examples I am familiar with) is a self-funded entity-they exist via the court fees they charge. And they are elected. So: a Clerk has her own source of funding outside any other government agency, they owe their job solely to how well they run their own election, and they control the vast majority of interactions the judicial system has with the public. Perhaps you now see why the judge is buried in the fine print? :slight_smile:

In Ohio, the money raised by clerks of court through fees, fines and costs goes into the general fund of the locality (county, city, town or township). Clerks’ offices are often revenue generators for the locality, but the clerk doesn’t get to keep all the money he or she takes in.