The Office of Clerk of the Circuit Court is an elected office serving an 8-year term. The Office of Clerk of the Circuit Court dates from 1619 when constitutional offices in Virginia were created by the House of Burgesses. From colonial days to the present time, the duties of the office have changed significantly, but the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court remains one of the most important constitutional offices in each county or city in the Commonwealth of Virginia.The Clerk of the Circuit Court in Virginia performs multiple duties that in many states are divided among several government offices. The Code of Virginia lists over 800 responsibilities and duties for the Clerk, many of which are legally sophisticated and highly complex. The growth in population in the Commonwealth of Virginia in recent years, makes the delivery of the Clerk’s services more challenging. The variety of duties, which are explained in detail below, include the following: public safety, court services, recorder of deeds, probate judge, custodian of court cases, public services, preservation of historic records, keeper of election ballots and law library maintenance.
Public Safety: The Clerk participates in the administration of public safety as a consultant to prosecutors and law enforcement officials. The grand jury that hears criminal indictments is assembled by the Clerk for the prosecutors and the sheriffs. The Clerk collects criminal fines and costs levied against criminals upon conviction in court trials. The Clerk is the official record-keeper of criminal felony cases, misdemeanor appeal cases and criminal indictments. The Clerk is responsible for providing critical public safety information related to criminal convictions and terms of incarceration of criminals to the Department of Corrections, Probation and Parole agencies, the State Police and many other public safety agencies.
Court Services: The Clerk provides direct administrative support to the judges in court proceedings. The Clerk prepares many legal documents for the court such as criminal court orders that determines the outcome of a criminal court case, summonses and legal service of process , authorizations for arrest and other judicial directives. The Clerk is responsible for maintaining all court files and ensuring proper recordkeeping of the legal documents in the court files. The Clerk assembles jurors to sit for a jury trial in the circuit court and provides an orientation to prepare jurors for the courtroom proceedings.
Jury Management: The Clerk manages jury operations and is responsible for issuing juror questionnaires to establish a qualified jury pool, issuing jury summons for jury trials, preparing jury lists, providing a comprehensive juror orientation and coordinating the needs of citizens who report for jury duty. Citizens are assembled on a regular basis to sit on a grand jury to hear testimony on criminal indictments.
Land Records: The Clerk is responsible for collecting the taxes and fees associated with the legal recordation of deeds. Additionally, the Clerk is responsible for retaining all deeds and land records recorded since the inception of the city/county and for ensuring adequate public access to these public records. The recordation taxes collected by Clerks statewide ($319,382,379 in fiscal year 2002) demonstrates substantial growth in the Commonwealth and increased value of real estate in Virginia.
Probate and Fiduciary: The Clerk acts as a probate judge when a last will and testament is presented to the Clerk for legal probate of an estate. The Clerk ensures the authentication of the will, conducts a legal hearing with witnesses, makes a legal appointment of an executor or administrator of a decedent’s estate and prepares legal documents and orders related to the handling of the estate. The Clerk collects the applicable estate taxes for the Commonwealth. The Clerk is also responsible for the appointment and qualification of guardians for minors or incapacitated adults.
Custodian of Court Cases: The Clerk is the official recordkeeper of all circuit court cases which include contract disputes, claims of negligence, criminal cases, divorce proceedings, land disputes, adoptions, requests for name changes, court judgments, and many other types of court cases. Under Virginia law, the Clerk is responsible for providing public access to most court files.
Public Services: The Clerk is responsible for issuing marriage licenses in Virginia, processing notary public commissions, and processing business name applications (commonly referred to as fictitious name applications) for citizens in a county/city. The Clerk issues witness subpoenas in court cases, issues concealed handgun permits, and administers the oath of public office to elected officials, sheriff deputies and to citizens who are appointed to local or state commission posts. In most jurisdictions, military discharge papers, referred to as DD-214, are filed with the Clerk. In some jurisdictions, the Clerk may provide passport application services and fishing license services.
Official Recordkeeper of Election Ballots: The Clerk takes custody of all election ballots after the local election officials have certified the election results. When localities request that bond issues and referendums, such as school bond construction issues, be placed on election ballots, the Clerk issues legal documents for legal publication.
Custodian of Historic Records: The Clerk’s Offices throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia possess a wealth of historic records, such as the original last will and testament of George Washington, that are available for public inspection. These historical records required constant protection and preservation work to ensure these artifacts remain in existence for future generations. The General Assembly created a special grants preservation program which is managed by the Library of Virginia and this program allows Clerks to use state grant funding to perform preservation and conservation work to restore and protect Virginia’s valuable history.
Law Library: By law, Clerks collect a fee when each new lawsuit is filed for purposes of maintaining a law library for the general public. Some Clerk’s Offices have a law library that is open daily while others have part-time law library operation. The law books and other legal resources in the law library are available to the public to use at no charge.