Jacqueline Smith wants to get politics out of the clerk’s office. She is the Prince William attorney running for Clerk of Court in a special election to be held April 18.
Smith notes the role of the clerk is important to the average citizen. The clerk’s office fosters approximately 800 responsibilities and manages a staff of almost 50 people.
Smith has felt the clerk of court position was an important one for some time. In 2005, Smith provided free legal counsel in Louisiana to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Many residents lost their land deeds in the flood. Many were lost from the courthouse as well. Others were in disarray. Smith worked with individuals, literally going through family bibles to prove they owned deeds to homes and parcels of land.
“It really opened my eyes to the devastation that can be caused when the clerk doesn’t do his job,” Smith said.
Since then, Smith has kept a close eye on what has been happening in Prince William County’s Clerk of Court’s office, and she did not like what she saw: an office that was mainly inefficient.
What she had thought was simply mismanagement she has come to believe was the result of cronyism gone awry. Despite open elections, name recognition helped retiring politicians get elected to the well-compensated Clerk of Court position, even if many lacked the requisite experience.
Smith said she is the non-political candidate. Even though she is endorsed by the Prince William Democratic Committee, she does not consider herself a politician. She has never been a politician. She said she believes the position requires a competent individual who is not there to play politics or retire from a political position but to fix a largely broken system, and she believes she is that person.
Working as an attorney, paralegal and law student for the past 17 years, Smith has seen the shortcomings of the Clerk’s office in Manassas. Files are not properly downloaded on the computer so judges cannot easily access them, and attorneys must carry around rolling file holders to carry paper versions of their documents.
She does not see that kind of trouble in neighboring jurisdictions, and she believes she is the person who can fix the system.
“This is an area where I can make a real impact on a lot of people’s lives. I believe I have the skills and the training and desire to do it well,” Smith said. “If we don’t do something to change all of this now, we are going to be in even more trouble six years from now.”
Smith said she is also interested in the position for reasons of social justice. As inconvenient as practices of the Clerk’s office are for attorneys, Smith is even more concerned with how it affects the citizens involved in hearings and trials with the court system.
The lag time makes it more difficult for them to file their paperwork on time and expeditiously work within the justice system. She believes the clerk’s office should help those people as much as possible, especially during stressful times of their lives.
Smith plans to change many of the procedures of the county clerk’s office that do not work. She notes that employees are instructed not to answer phones, and should someone not contact the office via email, they are required to come down to the Clerk’s office in Manassas to receive information or have their questions answered.
She believes that policy is highly discriminatory to those who do not easily have access to transportation. A person might take a bus from one side of the county to the other. In doing so, he might forfeit a day’s wage simply to receive information that could have been easily provided over the phone.
Smith would like the office to run more smoothly. To do so, she would also look into returning the online systems to a previous model that needs to be upgraded. For the purpose of cost-savings, it was replaced by what many believe to be an inferior system.
Although those changes sound expensive, Smith said there are positions at the Clerk’s office that are already budgeted for but are not filled. There has been high turnover, and she believes it is because employees were not happy with the way the office was run. Plus, they would eliminate the cost of inefficiency.
There are other changes she hopes to make, with the goal of making the office more transparent and user-friendly, and improving the Law Library where citizens do their own research in civil cases.
Smith believes she is very different from previous Clerks of Court in that she does not want to engage the office in highly partisan politics.
Clerk of Court Michele McQuigg decided to no longer hold marriage ceremonies at the courthouse as a response to the mandate that jurisdictions treat same-sex marriage equally. If the county could not legally discriminate against same-sex couples, then the county would not hold any civil marriage ceremonies at all.
Smith believes that was a mistake. She does not believe the position should be politicized and said the Clerk of Court should not be making judgments based upon a position of politics or religious beliefs, but the law.
“If you are unable to perform that duty, you need to step down,” Smith said.
Should she be elected, Smith said she would reinstate marriages and treat all couples equally as per the law.
She looks forward to reinstated marriage ceremonies since they will help raise funds, hopefully for the law library, and other needs at the Clerk’s office has. It would also make Prince William a more welcoming place, which is good in general, and good economically.
Smith said that since she ran her campaign, her opponent, Del. Jackson Miller has been agreeing with her on various issues. However, she feels he is simply adopting many of her stances, which in which she has developed over time by learning and studying the system as an attorney and running for the office in 2015.
Smith feels her career has provided her with the necessary experience to understand the Clerk’s office, and thus she would be the ideal choice based on job qualification rather than political clout. She also claims to have the support of many other attorneys and current employees of the clerk’s office.
The Prince William Democratic Party has endorsed Smith’s campaign for Clerk of Court.
Citizens of Manassas and Prince William can vote on April 18 at their usual polling place. Some polling places in Manassas Park have been changed.
For more information on Jacqueline Smith’s campaign visit her website smithforclerk.com.
Bristow Beat is not endorsing a candidate in this race. An article on candidate Jackson Miller will follow.
© 2017, Stacy Shaw. All rights reserved.