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Carbon commissioners try to sort through clerk of courts mess

Published August 31. 2018 12:23PM

Carbon County is contracting an additional three staff members from Lehigh County to help relieve the extreme backlog the clerk of courts office is trying to sift through.

On Thursday, the county commissioners voted to enter into agreements with Tony Remer, Dena Dalmas and Carmen Serrano to assist the clerk of courts office in the processing of records and other duties as deemed necessary between Aug. 18 and Dec. 31. They will be paid $15 per hour for their services.

“We need all the help we can right now,” Commissioners’ Chairman Wayne Nothstein said. “We have a long, long way to go. This is going to help, but what will help us the most is an appointment of a clerk of courts.”

As of Thursday, the state has not yet approved the county’s nomination of Francine Heaney as the new clerk of courts. Heaney, once approved, will fill the vacancy created by longtime clerk of courts William McGinley, who retired on May 1.

Last month, the commissioners confirmed that the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is investigating the clerk of courts office and the county’s insurance carrier was conducting an audit of the office.

Greg Armstrong, Carbon County court administrator, said that the office has been sifting through the backlog, creating a priority list for handling the files.

“We’re working through this as best we can,” he said.

The commissioners said that the three additional Lehigh staff, which brings the total contract Lehigh County staff to five, will have documents scanned in and sent to Lehigh County for processing.

Right now, the scanning of documents to be filed is a full-time job in itself, officials said.

“We’re definitely making some headway,” Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard said, commending Armstrong, the three judges and the county and court staff for working together to resolve this problem. “We’re getting there.”

In July, the commissioners aired their frustrations over the state of the clerk of courts office and how the backlogs are affecting residents and the count court system and prison.

At that time, Nothstein said that the county didn’t have a good sense on just how bad the backlog is, estimating that over $1 million in court-related fees were sitting paperwork that hadn’t been filed.

The commissioners said problems included positions in the office being left open for over a year, something only the clerk of courts could rectify; a hostile work environment; people’s driving suspensions being delayed indefinitely because of paperwork not being filed with the state in a timely manner; inmates sentenced to state prison not being transferred because paperwork is held up; and warrants not being issued.

To help with the problem, the board hired Jill Herschman and Jordan Kocher from Lehigh County in July at a cost of $15 per hour to help the clerk of courts staff catch up.

The clerk of courts office, as well as the bureau of collections, is being operated by acting clerk of courts Julie Harris, who served as the second deputy under McGinley.

According to state law, the acting clerk of courts position should have been given to the first deputy, but that position remains unfilled.

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