Morgan County Circuit Clerk John Pat Orr is retiring after nearly 18 years in office.
During a six-year span, Orr saw his staff reduced from 22 to 10 employees because of state budget cuts. His successor will manage an office that includes multiple divisions, including circuit, district and juvenile courts. Employees are divided among the divisions.
In the Nov. 6 general election, voters will choose between Republican Chris Priest, an attorney, and former minister Martin Steelmon, a Democrat.
The Daily posed questions to the candidates.
Question: Why are you running for circuit clerk?
Answer: I am running because Morgan County needs someone with legal experience, as well as passion for the court system. The clerk’s office has been hit with massive cutbacks, causing a backlog of court cases. Morgan County needs someone who is knowledgeable about both the court system and the clerk’s office, and understands how each system operates and the relationship between the two, including the rules and procedures, that must be followed. I am that person.
Q: What is the circuit clerk’s role in the judicial process?
A: The circuit clerk is the link between the public and the county judges. The clerk is the starting point of the court system, whether criminal, civil or domestic. All documents submitted for court must be filed in the clerk’s office. The clerk then organizes the documents and provides notice of the
filing to all parties, as well as the judge handling the case. The clerk maintains the organization and impartiality of the court system.
Q: Alabama has a unified judicial system, and for several years the courts have been underfunded because of revenue shortages. Budget cuts last year left the Morgan clerk’s office with 10 employees when it should have had 22. How will you manage an office with a small staff?
A: As an attorney, I have experience with various clerks’ offices around the state. I have seen both efficient and inefficient offices. If elected, I would first meet with the County Commission to discuss allowing the clerk’s office to consolidate the district and circuit offices, thereby creating one main office on the fourth floor of the courthouse. This would make available a front desk employee to help alleviate the backlog of cases.
Q: When and if the system receives another drastic cut, are you prepared to deal with it?
A: If elected, I will be making changes to the clerk’s office to help the office run more efficiently on less funding. Implementing these changes will potentially help prepare the office to weather future budget cuts. The public also needs to know that John Pat Orr and his staff have done a great job keeping the office functioning in the face of such severe budget cuts.
Q: It’s important for a circuit clerk to have knowledge about what district and circuit judges do, as well as the jury process for civil and criminal trials. Do you have that knowledge?
A: Yes. My first job after law school was as a law clerk for a Morgan County circuit judge. As a law clerk I had hands-on experience with the court system. At the end of the clerkship term, I began practicing law and became a partner with the law firm of Blackburn, Maloney and Schuppert. I have experience in working in the three divisions of the circuit clerk’s office, circuit, juvenile and district. I also have tried jury trials within our court system. My experience and knowledge of how the system operates will be invaluable as clerk.
Q: Because of the lack of employees in the office you might have to help perform some of the duties. Would you be able to do so?
A: Yes. In my current practice, the attorneys do not have individual secretaries. Rather, we have a support staff that works with the attorneys as a team to accomplish and complete the work for our clients. This system serves our clients exceptionally well. I have experience in working in the clerk’s office and I am willing to do whatever is needed to provide the public with consistent and efficient service.
Q: What would you do to keep the circuit clerk’s office current and efficient to avoid a backlog of cases?
A: At the courthouse, the clerk’s office is divided between three different floors. When the office staff was larger that was practical and necessary. However, I would like to initiate what other circuit clerks have done with success: physically consolidating the district division office with the circuit division office.
Q: Why should voters elect you over your opponent?
A: I have the legal experience needed to handle the distinct issues that arise in the circuit clerk’s office. I have worked with the circuit clerk’s office for the past 13 years and understand the court process. In a time when the state is cutting the staff of the clerk’s office, Morgan County needs an individual with the right legal experience.
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