by Jordan Green
The Democratic incumbent and Republican challenger in Forsyth County Clerk of Superior Court race both want to improve the efficiency of the office.
The clerk of superior court is the keeper of record for the county court system. Although the clerk is elected through a partisan election, the position is largely administrative.
“I know the system inside out,” said Democrat Susan Frye, who was elected to the position four years ago, but has worked in the office since 1976. “Our goal is to provide good service to the citizens.”
The county court system is used by criminal defendants who are charged with everything from homicide down to traffic infractions, citizens who file motions for evictions and other civil remedies, and an array of lawyers representing clients. The clerk of court works with a host of institutional players, including the judiciary, the district attorney’s office, the public defenders office and law enforcement to administer the local court system. Additionally, the clerk of court handles foreclosures, wills, estates and legal name changes.
“There is a small percentage of the public who are heavy users of the court,” said Republican Charlie Mellies, a lawyer in private practice and former public defender who is challenging Frye for the job. “For most people, when they need the court, it’s in times of need. They need someone with a knowledge of the law.”
Both candidates said they want to streamline the system and make it more efficient.
Frye, who currently serves as chair of the technology committee for the NC Conference of Clerks of Superior Court, has made technology the focus of her first term. The Forsyth County Clerk of Superior Court website, which Frye said she personally financed, provides information about upset bids in foreclosures, child support orders and jury duty. Beginning on Nov. 3, Frye said that minor traffic infractions such as expired registration will be handled online, allowing defendants the opportunity to avoid making a personal appearance in court.
She said Forsyth County was the first clerk of superior court office to implement credit-card payments, providing a convenient alternative to cash or money orders. And should she be re-elected, Frye wants to implement electronic filing. She said four other counties have attempted it without success because it was voluntary.
“You have to make it mandatory,” she said. “In the long run having a paperless system is the way we have to go with the way we’re always cutting the state and county budget.”
Mellies said his work as private attorney with Dummit Fradin has given him the opportunity to experience courts in neighboring counties, building on his experience as a public defender in Forsyth.
“On the criminal side, I would like to have it where if the client has hired an attorney, the client’s first appearance is waived,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time the case is continued, so we can save defendants the trouble of coming into court unnecessarily.”
Mellies said defendants should be waived of the requirement to appear in court if both the prosecutor and defense counsel agree ahead of time to a continuance.
Frye indicated she’s also mindful of not wasting defendants’ time. She said she and the district attorney take court outside the building every Tuesday and Thursday to handle continuances, allowing defendants the opportunity to avoid the cumbersome process of going through security.
While Frye wants to allow traffic offenders to handle infractions online, Mellies suggested the process could be streamlined with a phone call.
“If you miss your court date in other counties you can get your case rescheduled by calling the clerk,” he said. “In Forsyth County, if you live in the county, you have to come in to reschedule it. Everybody should be able to get their case rescheduled by calling in.”
Mellies, who ran unsuccessfully for state House two years ago, has made no secret of his aspiration to serve in high office.
“Politics is my passion because that allows me to serve the public,” he said. “Right now this office seems to be where I can do the most good for the most people. I would love to serve for as long as the people will have me. I don’t know if this will be a career where I’ll do this for 30 years or if the Lord will take me out of office into the private sector or into a different office.”
Frye said the clerk’s office is her “passion.”
“Years of experience gives me a working relationship with all the players — the judges, the DA’s office and law enforcement.”