Name as it appears on the ballot: Aminah Thompson
Campaign website: https://thompson4justice.com
Party affiliation: Democrat
Years lived in Durham County: 22
1. In 300 words or fewer, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? What do you understand the role of Clerk of Superior Court to encompass? Why should voters entrust you with this position?
I was born in South Carolina, the daughter of two educators and granddaughter of two ministers. They instilled in me and my brother the values of education, integrity, and using our gifts to improve our communities. I have made it my mission to exemplify these values. Since graduating from Duke University and UNC School of Law, I have dedicated my career to public service. I strive to make Durham a place that my son is equally proud to call home.
As I look around, the face of Durham has changed drastically over the past 20 years, but the Clerk’s office has not. It is time also to realize a change in our court system. I am the woman for the job. My 13 years as a Magistrate Judge working closely with the Clerk’s office have revealed a system in serious need of immediate attention—both in how it interfaces with the public and how it works within itself. When I am elected, I will reassess outdated methods to enhance the effectiveness of court operations. I will ensure equal access to the court system and its resources and seek to ensure that the legacies of Durham citizens are protected. Paramount to the enumerated duties of judge, administrator, record keeper, and comptroller, the Clerk is a public servant. I will be responsible for ensuring that the deputy and assistant clerks and magistrates are well-equipped to be at the frontlines of the justice system. I am committed to approaching these critical responsibilities through an equity lens and undertaking them with fairness, compassion, diligence, and respect.
2. In your view, what are the three most pressing issues facing the Clerk of Superior Court? If elected, what will you do to address these issues?
The three most pressing issues facing the Clerk of Superior Court are
1) the impending statewide implementation of eCourts, 2) staff attrition, and 3) equitable access to the court and its resources:
1) Along with statewide modernization efforts, we will require significant local efforts to digitize records, reassess outdated processes, retrain, and upskill the staff to ensure complete understanding and effective utilization of new technologies. We also must be cognizant that, while certainly more efficient, some streamlined and automated processes simply make it easier to plead guilty, which may result in unanticipated negative consequences. As such, the availability of information and resources becomes even more critical so that litigants fully understand their rights and options.
2) Staff attrition has been an increasing problem. I will implement equity, inclusion, mental health policies, and a zero-tolerance policy for bullying. These much-needed policies will improve courthouse operations and offices by eliminating racism and workplace harassment, decreasing absenteeism and turnover, improving employee performance, and confronting employee substance abuse. By providing additional support for courthouse employees, I plan to create a healthy workplace that will ultimately enhance our work-life balance and improve our service to the citizens of Durham.
I will invest in the employees; I will implement additional training and continuing education, including but not be limited to ethics and professionalism, diversity, equity, and inclusion training, and updates on both internally and externally available technologies and resources. Those who receive coaching and professional development are better equipped to make decisions, be more engaged, and serve their customers, yielding increased job satisfaction and retention.
In addition to hiring her own staff, the Clerk is responsible for nominating magistrates. When I am elected, I will meet and interview each candidate before their nomination–this has not been the practice over (at least) the past 13 years. With so much at stake, we must reexamine the hiring and nomination procedures to ensure that the “gatekeepers” of the system have an appropriate temperament and complete understanding of equity, access, and service—one cannot identify these necessary skillsets by skimming an application.
3) To provide more equitable access to the courts, I will hire multilingual staff and ensure that my staff is aware of all available resources to share with and assist community members. Finally, I will establish a Law Library and Resource Center and collaborate with courthouse and community partners to implement long-term goals like night court and daycare within the courthouse.
3. What is your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective clerk? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I have proven my commitment to public service, accountability, and advocating for equity by assuming active leadership roles in several community organizations that promote these values. Further, my experience as a judge and administrator demonstrates my ability to be an effective Clerk. As a Magistrate, I’ve heard thousands of contested small claims and landlord-tenant cases, allowing me a unique appreciation for efficiency and the importance of providing a full and fair hearing to all parties. I have the proven ability to synthesize a high volume of evidence, pinpoint relevant issues, and apply the appropriate law. I have developed a judicial temperament and will continue to employ fairness and respect while making decisions daily that have an immediate and critical impact on people’s lives. The past two years have necessitated an increased level of adaptability and creative problem solving. I have successfully navigated and will continue to overcome the many challenges accompanying the drastic changes in our human interaction and the constantly shifting legal landscape.
I have heard directly from the citizens over the past 13 years about their concerns navigating the courts. I have also worked very closely with the Clerk’s office, enabling me to identify the opportunities for improvement firsthand. Additionally, operating without a courtroom clerk or bailiff, I am responsible for all administrative functions in my courtroom. I command and show respect for all who appear, prepare written judgments, maintain a clear and concise record, and respond to the questions and concerns of all who appear before the court. I have recently undergone training in new statewide information technologies, including eCourts, and the online Clerk of Superior Court manual, which have further prepared me to lead the office through organizational transition.
4. If you are challenging an incumbent, in what ways do you believe you could run the Clerk’s office more efficiently? If you are an incumbent, what in your record and experience do you believe entitles you to another term?
There are metrics in use, in other jurisdictions, that measure trial court performance based on access to fairness, time to disposition, clearance rates, age of active caseload, trial date certainty, and integrity of case files. I will deploy mechanisms to measure these key indicators and use data-driven methods to clarify performance goals and develop plans of action to increase efficiency and accountability in the Clerk’s office and throughout Durham’s trial court system.
Also, the Clerk’s office currently does not employ any attorneys as assistants. Consequently, there is an inability to utilize the assistant clerks as hearing officers. Giving the assistants more quasi-judicial responsibilities, improved training, and automation of specific processes will enhance the efficiency of the court. These are only a few examples of the need to improve efficiencies. I will reassess several outdated practices to relentlessly seek innovative solutions to longstanding barriers in the court system.
5. This is something of a low-profile office, and many voters may be unfamiliar with the Clerk’s tasks, which include not just record-keeping but also judicial functions such as probate and adoptions. What would you tell voters about your management style? How would you assure them that the office would run efficiently under your direction?
My management style is transformational servant leadership. I lead with a determination to improve the human condition. I will adopt policies and practices that focus on employee and stakeholder growth, enrichment, and well-being, thereby building a better system. Team members who are personally and professionally satisfied and who feel respected, appreciated, and valued have stronger work cultures with higher morale, engagement, and productivity, hence providing better service. I can assure voters that when all employees are well-trained and performing at their best, in addition to updated technologies and a necessary reallocation of human resources, the office will run more efficiently and provide the best possible service. 6. How will you advocate for additional state funding for the operation of a growing and increasingly burdened court system? First, the much-needed automation of some of the administrative processes will allow for a reallocation of human resources, opening the opportunity for a position dedicated, at least in part, to identifying and procuring grant funding from the state and other funding sources. As I remain active in community and educational organizations, I will also mobilize my networks to amplify the need for additional funding.
7. What steps would you take to make the Clerk’s office more accessible to the public—for instance, for non-English-speakers or those who work during the day?
I will establish a Law Library and Resource Center to help pro se litigants navigate a complicated system and attorneys who may need to make a copy or print a document— allowing them to represent a client more efficiently and effectively in need. I plan to foster collaborations with local legal service providers to offer mediation and free or low-cost legal advice and representation. In addition to a physical resource center, I will create a dynamic website with updated information and access to valuable resources.
I will hire multilingual staff and make sure that the deputies and assistants know of all available resources to share with the community. I will expand remote hearing options, including considerations for those who need assistance accessing and navigating technology. I will set up an outside, non-biased, secure, and confidential system for citizens and staff to report harmful incidents without fear of retaliation and accountability repercussions for violators.
I will seek to build coalitions with other entities within the courthouse and amongst community partners to consider innovative ideas like a daycare and night court. Partnering with non-profit agencies to provide daycare within the courthouse, as done in other counties across the state, would be invaluable to jurors, persons with business before the court, and especially children who are subject to child custody, abuse, and neglect hearings, to prevent them having to sit in the courtroom and re-live the same trauma that brought them to court in the first place. Night court will not only limit unnecessary confinement for those awaiting a first appearance but will also address many citizens’ challenges with childcare, employment, etc., that might otherwise hinder their ability to appear in court.
8. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some points with voters.
I strive to be of service to all Durham citizens and I am confident that many of my values are in line with those of the greater community. I hope that all my constituents are open to embracing an expanded definition of diversity and inclusion that encompasses but is not limited to all races, religions, disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, we should do more to welcome the reintegration of those with criminal histories into society.