Somehow in the somnolent enjoyment of my retirement, I abruptly found myself working as a court clerk. Now at it for more than six months (part-time), it’s taken over a big swath of the days as I struggled to learn the ropes and simultaneously help streamline and modernize processes and procedures.

Recruited by neighbor, friend, and local town justice Bill Chernish, I started out inauspiciously with a letter from Tompkins County informing me that I was unqualified for the job.  In fairness, they were right–nothing in my background translated directly to the justice business.  Bill overrode the rejection and my next opportunity to get out of this was a fingerprint FBI background check.  Oh well, I got past that too.

It’s been fascinating being on the front lines of the justice system, however modest our little town endeavor is.  We have sufficiently “interesting” cases to belie Newfield’s sleepy-little-town characterization. But the bulk of our business is the routine processing of traffic tickets, dog licensing issues, etc.  The court clerk’s job throughout is to support the town justice to give prompt, fair, and correct processing through the judicial system for all who visit our court.

It’s humbling for me as I learn a daunting mound of procedures, tools, and forms. Most of what we do is watched over by state authorities to make sure we manage money, reporting, and administration within strict guidelines.

We’re just one of over 1200 town and village courts in New York State, each staffed with devoted court clerks making the jurisprudence machinery work smoothly.  My guess, based on observation at training sessions, is that at least 95% of clerks are women.  And most are impressively skilled and professional.  And they’re not earning what they’re worth.  (I’m not personally complaining because I’m doing it for entertainment and as a way to help our town.)