For many of you out there, no political race excites so little of your attention as the Clerk of the Court. Many of you don’t interact with it; heck, many don’t even have a solid idea even of what it does. Despite the understandable ignorance of many, it’s a pretty important job that has the potential to impact your life in some fairly significant ways, and that makes who is Clerk a rather non-trivial decision.
I sincerely hope that most readers never have to concern themselves with the fair administration of justice at the county level, but inevitably in life, most of us end up having some relationship with it at some point. Whether you serve on jury duty, apply for a concealed carry permit, or register a business name, chances are at some point you’re going to need the Clerk’s office, and I hope your experience with it is a positive one. For many though, that hasn’t been the case and that’s one reason why Saturday’s “firehouse primary” is important.
One of my personal hot-buttons is the law library. If you need to research the law and legal decisions and don’t feel like paying an attorney $200/hour to do so on your behalf, the law library is your opportunity to get comprehensive information on your own. It brings access to the law to the everyday person, allowing people with legal issues an opportunity for them to access the judicial system without having expensive attorneys effectively act as gatekeepers to the system. If information about the civil and criminal justice system is protected from the public by people who only talk to you if you pay them lots of money, justice is no longer for the people, but only for the wealthy people.
There’s been some questions about the law library lately, so a local attorney started asking some questions of the Clerk’s office under the Freedom of Information Act:
Dear Ms. McQuigg,
I am assisting the Board of the Prince William County Bar Association in providing you input regarding a review of the structure of the law library, its goals, any changes needed, skills required of the law librarian, budget issues staffing issues and the like given our current law Liberian’s, impending retirement. As such, I am in need of obtaining an accounting of the funds collected pursuant to County Ordinance Section 2-67 and thereafter remitted to the director of finance for the last 3 years so that I might better assist in addressing any potential budgeting issues.
Further, from a procedural stand point, am I correct in reading Section 2-67 that the clerk of each level of court collects the assessed costs or are all of those funds forward to your office to be forwarded to the Director of Finance? Stated another way do I need to be directing this request to the Clerks of the General District Court and Juvenile Domestic Relations District Court as well? Given the limited amount of time we have to conduct this review your swift assistance is greatly appreciated.
To the extent it is necessary please view this email as a freedom of information act request. I thank you in advance for your kind assistance with this matter and look forward to assisting you on behalf of the Prince William County Bar Association.
Unfortunately, this request did not receive a response within the guidelines required under the Freedom of Information Act, which raises it’s own questions about whether someone who doesn’t follow the law should be the one charged with administering the operation of the court system. When the answer finally did come back, the answer was that the Clerk’s office would no longer be funding the position of a librarian at the law library as required under the law. The librarian, for those of you out there, is the one person you can talk to who is knowledgeable about where to find legal answers who you don’t have to pay an extravagant hourly rate to.
Funds for the operation of the law library are collected as fees to things like the PACER system, which provides electronic access to court decisions. Instead of allowing everyone easy access to all the decisions that their taxpayer-funded legal system has arrived at, they require people pay money to obtain access to this information and the funds collected from these fees are dedicated to supporting the law library. Instead of actually using these funds to provide the alternative, in-person at the law library access instead of electronic access, these funds have been directed elsewhere. To what purpose, I have no idea.
The net result is that your personal ability to obtain legal information that was established using your taxpayer dollars is being restricted by Michele McQuigg, the current Clerk of the Court. Her decision makes it harder for you to independently obtain legal information on your own, and forces you to have to pay attorneys to do it for you, making the justice system less fair to the average person and more like a closed-in moneymaking racket that protects the financial interests of the wealthy.
That’s one reason why I’ll be voting for Austin Haynes at Saturday’s “firehouse primary.” I believe the law and court decisions should be as open and available to all as much as possible, because it’s not judges and attorneys who own the law, it’s us, the people.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
Leave a Reply