Specific Functions of the Clerk

The County Clerk

The County Clerk is one of several independent, elected officials provided by the Washington State Constitution(Article IV, Sec 26), with specific and special duties assigned by statute, as well as local and state court rules. The position of County Clerk is best characterized as the administrative and financial officer of the Superior Court. The County Clerk's purpose is to ensure the separation of powers among the three branches of government by preserving the integrity of the judiciary. Those three branches are Executive, Judicial, and Legislative.

This purpose is accomplished in three ways:

  • By being independent of the judicial branch, the Clerk protects the judiciary from the appearance of impropriety or unfairness in the setting of cases, implementation of orders, or investment of funds.
  • The Clerk is located in the Executive Branch of government and provides the avenue for external oversight of the judiciary without legislative or executive branch interference with its actions, integrity or independence.
  • As an independent elected official, the Clerk preserves for the public un-restrained access to a fair, accurate, and independently established record of the opinions, decisions, and judgments of the court.
Specific functions of the County Clerk include:

Administrator of court records and exhibits: The Clerk receives and processes all documents presented in a Superior Court cause of action. The processing of court documents involves record classification, assignment of cause number, computerized docketing and manual filing of hard copy records. The Clerk is responsible for seeing that these records are maintained, retained and purged in accordance with statutory time constraints and required archival standards.

Financial Officer for the Courts: As the court's agent, the Clerk collects statutory fees, fines, trust and support funds; maintains a trust account for monies received; disburses monies as ordered by the court and further provides an investment plan for monies held. The collection, accounting and investment of court monies is done to ensure that the interests of the public and the county are secured.

Quasi-judicial Officer: The Clerk serves a quasi-judicial function (to exercise discretion of judicial nature) for the issuance of writs, letters testamentary and other court related orders. In this function, the Clerk must review court documents for possible errors, perform acts required by law, issue letters testamentary, warrants of arrest, orders of sale, writs of execution, garnishment, attachments, restitution and set up judgments.

Ex Officio Clerk of the Court: Under the Constitution of the State of Washington, the Clerk has the title of "ex officio clerk of the court." This requires the Clerk's presence at all court sessions for the purpose of establishing an independent record of each hearing called "minutes" which are available to the public. The Clerk must also be present at every court hearing or trial to receive and keep a record of all exhibits (evidence) entered by the parties.

Jury Management Officer: In Cowlitz County, the Clerk's Office is responsible for the management of the jury panel for both District and Superior Courts. This requires over 15,000 summons to be sent out per year, processed and maintained through a computer jury management system.

Departmental Administrator: As the administrator of a county department, the Clerk has the responsibility to establish office policies and procedures, oversee the budget and maintain the established guidelines and policies of the Board of County Commissioners. Accuracy and efficiency are critical in the Clerk's Office, as even the slightest error or omission in marking evidence; indexing, posting, or filing the 75,000 legal documents yearly; or error in disbursing funds could affect the life or property of a private citizen.