Name as it appears on the ballot: James (Jamie) C. Stanford
Campaign website: www.stanfordforclerk.com
Phone number: 919-245-8326
Years lived in Orange County: 60 – my entire life
1. 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?
Underfunding and understaffing
The most pressing issue is the NC legislature’s underfunding and understaffing of the court system. This is a statewide, systemic problem, affecting all 100 Clerk of Court offices. Roughly 3% of the state budget supports the entire judicial branch of government, which includes all 100 Clerks’ offices. Most of the money collected by the Clerk’s office is used to support local schools or is sent to Raleigh; none of it is used to fund the Clerk’s office itself. The offices of the state’s Clerks of Court, District Attorneys, Judges, and Public Defenders all face perpetual staff shortages. The problem is well documented and acknowledged yet it continues to persist. The legislature recently has increased staffing somewhat and that is a step in the right direction. In the Orange County Clerk’s office, however, we still lack sufficient staff to keep up with the ever-increasing duties delegated to us. Unfunded mandates continue to significantly stretch staff’s time among a myriad of responsibilities. A proper segregation of staff’s duties within the office is not possible with the amount of work that seems to continuously increase. I advocate for adequate resources when and wherever I can, for example, in regional and state meetings with judicial and legislative leadership, but, as voters, we must also act at the polls. I will continue to lobby through the NC Administrative Office of the Courts and directly as a Clerk of Court to the legislature to seek increased funding of the judicial branch.
We continue to implement e-filing technology, moving towards a paperless court system. Requiring the filing and maintenance of public and other records in a paper format is outdated. While almost all the technology decisions are made at the state level, I advocate for more and quicker action every chance I get. The goal is for our citizens to be able to interact with our judicial system without having to appear in the courthouse. Some technologies are already in
, such as electronic traffic tickets and NCAWARE (an electronic repository for criminal processes). Another example is the Electronic Compliance and Dismissal program that allows some minor traffic violations to be dismissed without the citizen ever coming to the courthouse. Overall, however, our court system’s current technology is woefully inadequate and is difficult for a
to understand, use or even access. The NC court system needs to take advantage of existing technologies to make us more user-friendly and to make us more widely available to the public without citizens having to visit the courthouse. The federal bankruptcy courts and the NC Business Court currently employ such advanced systems. The NC Administrative Office of the Courts, which supplies and controls the existing electronic systems to the Clerks’ offices, has initiated efforts to make progress in this area. Despite what some may think, however, changes to technology are not within the purview of the Clerk of Court’s office beyond supporting its rapid adoption. I fully support efforts to modernize our systems and look forward to working directly with the NCAOC in its efforts to do so.
Court costs and filing fees
The costs and fees associated with the use of our judicial system are too high and continue to increase. They have increased dramatically over the 17 years I have served as Orange County Clerk of Court. For example, in 2001 a seatbelt violation was $25.00 fine (only); it now stands at $179.00 in costs and fine; miss your court date and it jumps to $379.00. Civil filing fees have also increased significantly, effectively denying many Orange County citizens access to their courts and the ability to assert or protect their rights. These costs and fees are set by the legislature, but I continually advocate for lowering them through our legislative delegation and the NCAOC. The General Assembly needs to provide additional support for our court system to reverse the current regressive trend toward funding the court system on the backs of our state’s poorer citizens.
2. What in 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.
Experience is the key qualification, and I possess it. My record reflects that of a public servant who has faithfully served the citizens of Orange County for 17 years, as the Clerk of Court for that entire period. As recently as 2016-2017, the NC State Auditor conducted its regular audit of our office and every cent was accounted for. As a result of my record, I have been elected to this position four times without opposition. During my tenure, the Orange County Clerk of Superior Court’s office has notably been run without incident and has excelled over time in its performance of its duties. It has transitioned from a scattered and fragmented office and staff to one that now has a central location, with a staff of 26 well-trained and effective assistant and deputy clerks.
My experience practicing law in Orange County for ten years prior to becoming the elected Clerk gave me and continues to give me insight into the purpose of the office and how best to run it. And since taking office, I continue to attend classes, seminars
conferences (both as a student and as an instructor) to enhance my abilities and knowledge of the law and how it applies in the office.
The Director of the NC Administrative Office of the Courts has confidence in my abilities and knowledge, thereby naming me as chair of two of the most prominent committees under his supervision. I am also Chair of the Clerks’ Procedure Manual revision committee. This manual is used daily by Clerks throughout the state in the performance of their judicial duties; I previously chaired this committee for the 2012 revision, in collaboration with the UNC School of Government and the Administrative Office of the Courts. My fellow Clerks of Superior Court have respect for my abilities and routinely seek guidance from me about issues that come before them.
3. 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?
Under my direction, the office of the Orange County Clerk of Superior Court has been run efficiently and effectively for the last 17 years. It has become a leader among the 100 Clerk of Superior Court offices throughout the state. Despite chronic underfunding and understaffing, we have transitioned during my tenure into an office that not only processes an enormous and complex daily workload accurately and
but also does it with a much better collective understanding of why we do what we do. This is important to us in the performance of the multitude of tasks for which we are responsible.
4. 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?
From the beginning, my management style has been hands-on. Every day I interact personally both with citizens and judicial officials. That has been the hallmark of my tenure. In the judicial function setting, I preside over all hearings in Orange County within the jurisdiction of the Clerk of Court; examples of these include adoptions, administration of decedent’s estates, incompetency and guardianship, and foreclosures. I work closely with every division within the Clerk’s office to make sure my staff
their duties and roles in fulfilling our responsibilities, and that I, in turn, understand the demands and needs of each division. As a team, our office frequently adjusts as new demands and additional responsibilities are given to us, whether from within the judicial
or otherwise. Our core values center on integrity and honesty and we subscribe to the time-honored Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated.
5. How will you advocate for additional state funding for the operation of a growing and increasingly burdened court system?
Through interaction with our legislative delegation, acting individually as a Clerk of Court and working with the NC Administrative Office of the Courts I will work to ensure adequate funding is provided by the General Assembly. The judiciary is the branch of government that arguably responds
immediately to the need to protect individual citizens and their rights. The legislature must be made more aware of the constraints they are placing upon the judicial branch by their perpetual underfunding of it. The historical funding rate—at or below three percent (3%) of the state’s entire budget—has limited the court system’s ability to provide the necessary services and accessibility to our citizens. The assault currently being
against the judicial branch must be stopped and reversed.
More specifically, we need to roll back increased court costs, filing fees, and fines; restore judicial discretion to waive court costs, fines
restitution; provide for adequate staffing of judicial offices to ensure that the judiciary fulfills its intended purpose as an equal branch of government.
Despite the continuing underfunding and understaffing, my team and I have met the challenge – your Clerk’s office is creative, resourceful and resilient; the citizens’ funds are safe and accounted for. Every single penny.
6. 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?
As referenced in my answer to the first question, technological innovation is one step we can and should take. Unfortunately, all the Clerks’ offices are fully dependent on the NC Administrative Office of the Courts (the NCAOC) for the database systems used throughout the state. The NCAOC has not kept up with the changes and advances occurring in the field of technology. Collectively, the Clerks have pushed the NCAOC to make significant changes to the methodologies used in our offices. Recently this push has gained traction and we are hopeful that enormous changes are on the horizon.
There is no doubt that the citizens of Orange deserve a more modern Clerk of Court’s office – one that can be accessed easily and that is more user-friendly. And, hopefully, one that does not require a citizen to travel to the courthouse every time he or she needs to use our services. I will continue
my efforts, as I have been doing, to push for funding to create such an office.
As far as the plight of non-English-speakers,
there is currently a policy and methodology in place to provide interpreters for these citizens to ensure they receive all necessary services.
7. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some points with voters.
Juvenile Justice/Raise the Age/ MDP Program
Raise-the-age legislation. Effective in late 2019, 16- and 17-year-old teenagers charged with most crimes will no longer be processed as adults in the NC court system.
they will be charged as juveniles and dealt with in the juvenile justice system. NC is the last state in the nation to adopt this change. Some may take issue with this significant change in our court system as it relates to these alleged crimes and how the alleged perpetrator will be treated. However, I support the change and will work hard to implement the change within the Clerk’s office. It will provide us with additional work as the juvenile system is more complicated and intensive, but the outcome will be worth it. Not saddling juveniles with a criminal record early in their lives will most assuredly help in the long run. I have seen first-hand how a youthful mistake can follow a citizen long into adulthood – our office already handles expunctions (where certain qualified criminal dispositions can be erased or removed
a person’s criminal history). Treating such offenses in the juvenile justice system will avoid a criminal history that is a part of the public record.
Further, Orange County’s misdemeanor diversion program, in which
qualified teenagers can participate, prevents the criminal charge from ever being lodged; no public record is kept of the individual’s participation in the program and if successful, there exists no criminal record to be erased or removed. I have the privilege of participating in and addressing these teenagers through the misdemeanor diversion program. It makes a difference to their families and to their future.