Login | December 17, 2018

Youngstown clerk of court discusses goals for 4th term

Legal News Reporter

Published: January 11, 2018

When Sarah Brown-Clark first took office as Youngstown Municipal Clerk of Court in January 2000, she set out to make office operations more efficient by upgrading technology and hiring local talent versed in its use.

At the time she began, case management entailed keeping track of paper files.

But fast-forward to today and there’s an electronic case management system in place and Brown-Clark has reduced the staff from 34 to 28. Most of the employees have college degrees and many are Youngstown State University graduates hired by Brown-Clark.

“I am very proud of the fact that I have been able to provide employment to YSU graduates who might otherwise have left the community, contributing to the brain-drain on our area,” said Brown-Clark.

“I am also proud of the fact that these graduates have helped upgrade our operations at the court, increasing efficiency and making it more convenient for the public.”

Born and raised in Youngstown, Brown-Clark received her bachelor’s degree in English from Ohio University in Athens. She also has a master’s degree in English from Ohio University and attended Kent State University, where she earned hours toward a doctorate.

In 1972, she embarked on her first career as an associate English professor at Youngstown State University. She taught for about 28 years and retired with the rank of associate professor.

She said she decided to run for the office of Clerk of Court because she wanted to continue to contribute to the community.

“I had been paying close attention to the office and I realized that the former clerk was near retirement and I felt that the office would be a good fit for me,” she said. “We were coming into the electronic age and I had a number of ideas that I felt would be beneficial to the court.”

Brown-Clark was re-elected to her fourth term in November. She said it will be her final term as Clerk of Court and she plans to make it count, laying out a long list of goals she hopes to accomplish.

At the top of her agenda, putting an e-payment system in place to allow residents to pay parking tickets and other fines online and by phone.

Darryl Anderson II, information systems manager at the Clerk of Court Office, said he expects the system will be up and running by the end of the year.

“We received an Ohio Supreme Court Technology Grant of $29,419 to cover the hardware upgrades and software so the public will not be paying for any of it,” said Anderson, a Youngstown State University graduate hired by Brown-Clark about 18 years ago.

Brown-Clark and her staff are also busy preparing to move their operations to the City Hall Annex, which they expect to do early next year.

Once they settle into their new office, she said the focus will be on making e-filing a reality.

“This will make it easier for attorneys who will not have to stop what they are doing to file in person,” said Brown-Clark. “I am really hoping to go paperless altogether once we get judicial approval.”

“We are digitizing our back records right now,” said Anderson. “After we get the e-filing system working, we will be digitizing files as they come across the counter.

“From my perspective, we have to make sure the infrastructure is right,” said Anderson. “We need to evaluate our aging hardware and replace it in ways that don’t burn taxpayer money by acquiring grants if possible.”

Brown-Clark also would like to make all court forms available on the website for the public and create a web-based information system, where residents can ask questions online.

“I want to get to the point where the police can upload traffic tickets and I’d like to see a remote electronic interpretation system for court users who are not fluent in English.”

Another goal, she said, is to replace the manual hand stamping of documents with a brand new electronic document certification system.

“We will need to upgrade our firewall to keep hackers out,” said Brown-Clark.

She said she is looking forward to the development of a centralized data storage system in the state, an idea that is currently being explored. In addition, she said she is investigating the addition of an online alternative dispute resolution system for pro se litigants and anticipates state court adoption of a standard case management system.

While upgrading technology is her primary focus, she plans to continue to make the court accessible to the public by maintaining extended office hours from 7 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays.

Steve Longworth, president of the Ohio Association of Municipal/County Court Clerks (OAMCCC), where Brown-Clark has been a member for 17 years, said Brown-Clark is “not afraid to take on a major project for the betterment of the clerk’s office.”

Brown-Clark, a former president and current education chair of the OAMCCC, received the Clerk of the Year award in 2006. She previously sat on the board of the National Association for Court Management (NACM) and is now a member of the NACM Conference Development Committee. She also serves on the Ohio Supreme Court’s Court Personnel Education & Training Committee.

“Sarah Brown-Clark is a leader,” said Longworth. “She does a wonderful job and is well versed about current activities in her court and around the state.”

“I would say you can only go as far as the vision of your leader,” said Anderson. “Part of my job is to take cues from the clerk, whose vision it is to use technology to make things easier and quicker for court staff and the public.

“Sarah Brown-Clark really does care about the future of the office and its impact on residents and staff and that makes my job a lot easier.”

“The court has big challenges coming down the pipeline with the legalization of marijuana and issues related to human trafficking and I want to make sure we have the technology to address those challenges,” Brown-Clark said. “I think I can accomplish all that is on my agenda one bite at a time.”