By Edna Ward
As the new T. K. Davis Justice Center expansion nears completion, the Lee County Circuit Clerk will be among those moving to new quarters. Mary Roberson is Lee County’s circuit clerk. Who is she and what are her duties?
Mary Roberson is a wife and a mother of two daughters, ages 9 and 7. Additionally, she is a graduate of Auburn University and Cumberland School of Law, Samford University. As an attorney, she has 10 years experience; five were in private practice and five as one of Lee County’s assistant district attorneys. Her prior legal experience included both civil and criminal cases. She was appointed as Lee County circuit clerk to fill the unexpired term of Corinne Hurst, and her oath of office was administered July 1, 2013.
The Code of Alabama, Title 12 addresses Alabama Courts with Section 11-2 defining the circuits. Section 12-17-94 lists the duties of the clerks.
Currently in Alabama there are 41 judicial districts with 68 circuit clerks. There is one circuit clerk for each county – plus an extra one in Jefferson County who serves Bessemer.
Alabama’s 37th Judicial District encompasses Lee County and is served by five judges. The Judges are Honorable Jacob A. Walker, III, Russell K. Bush, Mike Fellows, Christopher Hughes and Steve Speakman.
Circuit clerks must be available, or have a magistrate available, 24 hours a day. When law enforcement needs a warrant, even in the middle of the night, the warrant is issued from the circuit clerk’s office and must be signed by a judge.
“That is not necessary for a typical arrest warrant,” Roberson said. “The only requirement is that the warrant is sworn and issued by a magistrate. A search warrant is typically signed by a judge, although as circuit clerk I could issue a search warrant since I am a circuit clerk that also has a law license. I have not signed one since I have been in office. On the criminal side, our office has several court specialists who are also magistrates and are available 24/7 to issue arrest warrants. We have always provided magistrates to assist officers during Auburn University home football games. In 2013, I implemented a ‘Mobile Magistrate Unit’ which also provides on-site magistrates for events that will cater to large crowds, such as the Farm Tour and Alpha Psi Rodeo. The mobile unit has proven to be a great help to the many law enforcement officers that are necessary to maintain peace and safety during these events. This office processes both civil and criminal paperwork for the courts including summonses, subpoenas, writs, executions and other processes under the authority of the court.”
Roberson explained, “The Circuit Clerk’s office is the ‘engine’ of the court system, and the circuit clerk serves as the chief administrative officer and chief financial officer. There are many different functions of my office, but it is my primary responsibility to make sure that all of the paperwork and money flowing through the court system is processed correctly. There are several different divisions of the office that are breakdowns of the Circuit and District Courts (both criminal and civil) to include the following: Small Claims, Evictions, Domestic Relations, Worthless Checks, Traffic, Child Support, Misdemeanor, Felony, and Juvenile. We collect court ordered monies and distribute the revenue as defined by the Code of Alabama. In a month, my office takes in a considerable amount of court ordered money and sends out about 4,000 checks. Court fees, filing fees, court costs, fines, restitution and civil judgments are a large bulk of the monies collected – and – the accounting and payment of these monies are the sole responsibility of the circuit clerk. Numerous local and state agencies and the state general fund are the recipients of the disbursement of these funds.”
The clerk also attends court sessions, sets the court dockets and handles appeals from all court levels. For 2013 Roberson said, “Our Lee County court system had around 15,000 cases filed. Half of those were traffic cases and the other half were criminal and civil cases.”
The circuit clerk is often named as fiduciary in many court ordered investment accounts. With further explanation she said, “Those are cases where a minor or incompetent person is awarded money and the clerk is ordered to hold those funds in trust until otherwise ordered by the court.” Additionally, “The circuit clerk is an officer of the court and serves as the Custodian of Records. This office is responsible for providing access to those records by court personnel, the legal community and the public. While most records are public, confidentially is maintained for those records protected by law. Aside from the many court responsibilities, the circuit clerk is also statutorily responsible for the pre-approval, qualifying, and monitoring of all bonding companies in the county as well as for municipalities.” The circuit clerk has additional, statutory responsibilities related to elections, and Roberson currently serves as the Absentee Election Manager as well as a member of the Appointing Board for election officials and Canvassing Board.
Roberson’s office also serves as a Passport Acceptance Facility. Her office was featured in the March 2015 issue of the New Orleans Passport Acceptance Agency Newsletter for receiving a perfect score from the Acceptance Facility Oversight Program.
And – with all of the above, the clerk’s office must operate with a “skeleton crew” which has been the norm since massive government layoffs in 2009. According to a population study performed in 2009, the Lee County circuit clerk’s office should have approximately 21 employees to adequately process the caseloads of a jurisdiction this size. Roberson’s office currently has only 13 full time employees and two part time employees. Even with these pressures and bleak economic circumstances, Roberson and her staff remain positive and steadily at work. Everyone is excited about moving into the new building and having much needed additional workspace to perform all of the many duties of the office.