The three candidates seeking the Patrick County Clerk of Circuit Court post were among those to lay out their plans and respond to questions last week at the Patrick County Republican Committee’s Candidate Forum. In all of the races, each candidate was asked to prepare a three-to-five-minute introduction of themselves. Afterward, those attending had the option of asking candidates questions.
Appointed by Judge Marcus Brinks to serve as the interim Clerk of Court in November 2022, Boothe said she is “still so honored to have been chosen to take on the role of interim clerk. I believe it was a decision carefully made by Judge Brinks.”
Hired in 2017, Boothe said she has experience in every aspect of operations in the Clerk’s Office.
“Although additional professional education is not mandated by the Virginia Supreme Court, I chose to receive additional education to support my duties and encourage my staff to do the same,” she said.
Initially, Boothe said her duties consisted of working the front counter, which meant she also doubled as a civil clerk.
“That entails helping the incoming public, recording deeds, issuing marriage licenses, passports, concealed permits, filing civil cases, prepping filings for the jobs, search warrants, administrative oaths, filing custody and visitation, criminal appeals, issuing subpoenas and summons, and many more tasks,” she said.
She then moved up to a criminal clerk, where she was responsible for entering certified criminal court cases, and indictments, issuing show causes, updating the case management system with recent arrests and fingerprints for the state police, preparing dockets for attorneys and judges for all pending cases, and scanning sentencing orders to the database for the Department of Corrections.
When the previous bookkeeper retired at the end of 2019, Boothe assumed that role as well and began making daily deposits, journal vouchers, running restitution checks, applying fines and costs to defendants, setting up defendant payment plans, and filing unclaimed property with the state.
Since taking over as interim clerk, Boothe said she’s also made improvements that were long overdue like implementing several new modernized programs to help ease issues employees and citizens have faced in the office, including “online payments for fines and costs, which streamlined and increased collections; automated the judgment process on court cases, saving hours of staff time and money; automated the deed numbering system, eliminating chances of error; I created a new informational Facebook page to give information to the public,” and other changes.
Boothe said she’s been commended for a job well done by the Virginia Supreme Court and the Clerk’s Association. She has also been endorsed by the Clerks of Court of the City of Martinsville and Prince William County, and the President of the Clerk’s Association.
Noting that she is the only candidate in the election who has ever worked in the Clerk’s Office, Boothe said she is the only candidate with actual experience.
“I have the full support of all of the deputy clerks in the office who have worked hard right beside me over the last year to make tremendous improvements. This position needs a clerk that won’t have to be trained by a deputy clerk working under her,” she said.
A Woolwine native with 25 years’ experience in the legal field, Belcher said she has “worked for some of the best attorneys that this county has to offer. Three of those are currently presiding judges in our court system, so I have learned from the very best.”
In addition to her legal knowledge, both civil and criminal, Belcher also has administrative responsibilities that she has honed during her tenure.
Belcher said she worked with the county budget daily.
“I know the comp board system, and it would not be starting from ground level for me to take over. I have transitioned to the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office three times, and every time it has been a seamless transition,” she said. “Not one day of work has been missed, nothing has fallen through the cracks, or anything like that.”
In addition to the budgets, Belcher also manages an office of eight to 12 employees, “so, managing a staff would not be anything new to me either.”
Belcher said she was also recently asked to be on a panel for hiring an administrative assistant in Henry County for the Commonwealth’s Attorney office.
Mary Clark, of the Blue Ridge District, asked Belcher if she had the technological skills and the training needed to bring new technology to the Clerk’s Office.
With her associate degree in Computer Information Systems, Belcher said “I have grown through the years because obviously things have changed over the years. Our IT person for the county is located out toward Richmond. We do our own in-house technology and so about eight years ago we started our database system, and I was able to help transition that.”
Blecher said she can figure things out and she knows how to ask for help when needed.
Clark also asked what new technologies Belcher would implement if elected.
“Ms. Boothe has done a wonderful job in updating, and so I would get in there I would evaluate and see what is needed,” Belcher said. “Right now, I can’t tell you, ‘oh, I would start this program,’ but there are things that she (Boothe) has done that has helped that office a tremendous amount, but there’s always room for improvement.”
A Patrick County native, Wade said she started working with Chris Corbett’s office in 2011 and then joined Schneider & Williams, P.C. in 2018.
“At each of these offices, I’ve become very skilled in all the facets that come along with the legal world. That’s working with the public, doing real estate transitions, working with the commissioner of accounts doing probate and estate filings, civil filings, and criminal work,” she said.
If elected, Wade vowed to make county residents feel welcome, respected, and understood. She has this perspective because she comes from a place that deals with the clerk’s office every day.
“I know what needs to happen to make their journey, their trip, their trials better through the clerk’s office,” she said. “For the last 12 years, I’ve developed a concrete understanding of what the legal realm actually entails and why the clerk’s office is so important.”
Wade said the clerk’s office remained in her eyes one of the most prestigious and best clerk’s office in Virginia when Susan Gasperini served as the Clerk of Court.
“Since then, things have fallen,” she said.
Retired clerk Sherri Hazlewood had several legal issues.
Since then, “things have seemed to take a better turn, but they’re still not where they need to be,” Wade said.
Unlike the other constitutional offices which have four-year terms, the clerk of court has a term of eight years. Wade said this is because of the vast knowledge it takes and the fact that “turnover is not going to be helpful in a clerk’s office to keep things regulated moving forward.”
Wade said she is dedicated and motivated to do this job, wants to return the clerk’s office to the standard it should be, and doesn’t want there to be things like bad audits.
“If you were at our former forum or saw anything about that, Ms. Boothe stated that ‘they’re not failed audits.’ I will grant that to her, they’re not pass or fail. However, the audits done by the Virginia Public Auditor’s Office are ones that should be in comparison to restaurants that have a 75 percent sanitation rate and a 98 percent sanitation rate. Which restaurant would you have more confidence in, I think the answer’s obvious,” she said.
Wade said training and procedures need to be implemented to reverse that.
Also, if elected, Wade said another goal is to create a cohesive amount of training and the ability for everyone to work together with the public and to be understood.
“I hear in the office every once in a while, that some of our public are met with challenges and they are not greeted with answers at the clerk’s office, and that’s got to be frustrating for all parties. It’s not normally true with me, and that’s been a very nice thing,” she said.
Bill Clark, of the Blue Ridge District, asked Wade about her original statement posted on Facebook about why she was seeking the position. In that statement, Wade said she’s “the only candidate who has served the people of Patrick County and surrounding counties for many years in every aspect of what occurs daily in the Clerk’s Office.”
Bill Clark asked Wade if she still stood by that statement and to explain how she felt she was the only candidate to serve the county residents, with her opponents also claiming service and experience.
Wade said she believes she has served the people of Patrick and surrounding counties in every aspect of the clerk’s office from the work done every day in the attorney’s office.
“I have not physically been in the clerk’s office. However, the actual serving of what goes on in the clerk’s office from the matters that are handled, I do feel like I have handled those in every facet, and I don’t know that Ms. Boothe has done full out probate and worked with the commission of accounts much just like I don’t know if Nancy (Belcher) has recently,” she said.
Wade said the other two candidates have worked with the public in the roles they do daily, and fielded a question from deputy clerk trainee Melissa Clark about the skills and training she could offer for future hires.
Wade said she knows there’s an opportunity to work with the Virginia Supreme Court in Richmond and also the Clerk’s Office Association. If elected, she intends to go through and be trained in.
“I do know what happens daily, again from a public standpoint, and it is my hope to have cohesive training that is offered through these organizations to be able to bring that to all the deputy clerks there along with myself,” she said.
Lisa Mickles (pronounced Michaels), who works in the Clerk’s Office, questioned Wade’s statement about the position being for an eight-year term because of the vast knowledge one needs to do the job, and how would it be beneficial to bring Wade in when she’ll have to start from scratch, especially with the year of transition the office has seen.
Wade said it was obvious if she started this position, it would take a long time to grasp every detail.
“However, I do have the support of those around me to be able to learn from prior clerks and those in other communities. It is something that every deputy clerk that is currently serving at the Patrick County Clerk’s Office, Morgan (Boothe) was hired by Susan Gasperini for a few days, but had worked under” Hazlewood, she said, adding the office standards then fell.
“There were backlogs of sentencing orders, there were things that weren’t completed through the years, and nobody stepped up to do those until just recently,” Wade said, “So, it’s one of those things that I find that, while I do believe that it’s going to be a learning curve to be able to handle all of the duties there, I’m fully equipped in being able to handle that.”
Wade also fielded a question about why she never applied for a deputy clerk position before choosing to run for the Clerk of Court position. She responded that she liked the job she was doing at the time.