Login | June 19, 2018

Remembering Summit County’s 1st female clerk of courts

Legal News Reporter

Published: May 19, 2017

As Summit County’s first female clerk of courts, A. Diana Zaleski was considered a visionary by many of those she worked with and supervised. She started the clerk’s office down the path to modernization, making records available online for the public’s use.

The woman who received accolades for her many years of public service passed away on April 8 from complications of Bulbar ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).

Zaleski was 76.

“Diana really wanted to help the public,” said Mary Lou Daugherty, former chief deputy under Zaleski. “I think that is what she loved about the job the most.

“Her goal was always to do a good job for the citizens of Akron,” said Daugherty. “She was one of the first clerks to put court records online and even though she got a lot of criticism, she did not let that stop her.”

“Diana was very intelligent and ahead of her time when it came to computerizing court records,” said Scott Feeney, Summit County Clerk of Courts chief of staff who was hired by Zaleski in 1996. “She was pretty tech savvy and very forward thinking.”

Born in Akron on March 2, 1941, Zaleski graduated from Akron North High School in 1958.

She began her tenure in the Summit County Clerk of Courts Office in January 1976 as a part-time clerk. Thirteen years later, she was appointed to serve as Summit County Clerk of Courts, succeeding James McCarthy who was tapped for county auditor.  

In 1990, she won election to McCarthy’s unexpired term. Zaleski was elected to her first four-year term in 1992. She was re-elected in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

Daugherty said when Zaleski first came to the courthouse the entire file room was full of paper records.

“She immediately began gathering case files from different locations and started a massive microfilm project,” said Daugherty.

“Diana secured funding for the project through a capital improvement budget request,” she said. “It was the first time anyone in the common pleas court sought to restore and retain case files. It took us two years to complete the project.”

In April 2005, Zaleski launched the Summit County Criminal Justice Information System. The website allows citizens, law enforcement agencies and court personnel to access information from all court records systems throughout Summit County.

“She was able to secure some grant monies that allowed CGI technologies Inc. to create the software and then coordinated with the muni courts and muni clerk’s offices to obtain their case information,” said Daugherty.  

Zaleski also unveiled the Summit County Naturalization Records website.

“When we put the naturalization records online she herself actually spent days and evenings at her home entering the data into the program for the public to access,” said Daugherty. “Our court was the first one in Ohio to put citizenship and naturalization records online so that people could research their genealogy.”

Zaleski retired in 2006.

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan took the reins from Zaleski and served as clerk until he was elected mayor last November.

In an emailed statement Mayor Horrigan described Zaleski as “a dedicated public servant and a great resource and friend. When I entered the Clerk’s Office in 2007, I worked hard to build upon the work that Diana started – putting public courts records online, providing for electronic filing of documents and modernizing the process to increase efficiency and improve transparency for the public. 

“The Clerk’s Office is the hub of the justice system, and both Diana and I appreciated the importance of utilizing technology to serve our public customers. Her legacy of public service and decade of work at the Clerk’s office has left a lasting mark on the greater Akron community.” 

Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands first got to know Zaleski around 1990.

“As a practicing attorney at the time,” said Judge Rowlands, “Diana was a very competent clerk of courts. She played an important role in modernizing the clerk’s office and laid the foundation for others who followed.

“I always appreciated her sunny nature and the high quality of service she gave to the community,” said Judge Rowlands. “I was sad to learn of her passing.”

In addition to her work as clerk of courts, Zaleski was a member of the Women’s Network, the Women’s Advisory Committee to Summa Health, the Ohio Clerk of Courts Association, the Summit County Records Commission, the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers, the Akron Crime Clinic, Federated Democratic Women of Summit County, the Community Drug Board and Sons of Italy.

She also participated in numerous fundraising and charitable events.

In 2007, she was given the Cliff Skeen Lifetime Achievement Award, the county’s top award for public service. She also received the Michael Powell Humanitarian Award, the BPW Community Woman of the Year, the Community Health Center Presidents Award, the Harold K. Stubbs Humanitarian Award and the Akron Bar Association Public Service Award.

“Diana was a kind and caring person with a zest for life,” said Feeney. “She always had an ear for you if you needed to talk. She loved to travel and after she retired, she traveled a lot.”

Zaleski was laid to rest on April 14 at Hillside Memorial Park.

She leaves behind her daughters, Debbie Cincurak and Karen Hiltbrand and her son, Michael (Sharon) Zaleski. Zaleski is also survived by her grandchildren Danielle, Lauren, Maggie, Jessica and Nicholas; her sisters Mary Martin and Josephine Johnson; sister-in-law, Rosemary Palcheff; many nieces and nephews and George Bleyle, a loyal friend who continued to support her during her health struggle.

Zaleski was preceded in death by her parents Filippo and Providenza DiMario.