STAUNTON – Augusta County Clerk of Circuit Court R. Steven Landes today issued the first annual Circuit Court Clerk’s Report for activities accomplished by the Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office in 2020. In addition, to sharing this report with the public, the report has been provided to members of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, Augusta County representatives in the Virginia General Assembly, and Circuit Court Judges conducting Court in Augusta County.
“It is a pleasure to officially issue our very first Circuit Court Clerk’s Report for 2020 to the citizens of Augusta County,” Landes said. “None of what is reported would have been possible without the help and support of the staff members of the Clerk’s Office, and I want to thank the all our dedicated and hardworking staff members who have accomplished so much this past year for our citizens.”
The report highlights the activities and accomplishments for the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, including the Augusta County Court House: Historic Records Short & Long Range Plan; the Clerk’s Internship Program; the formation of the Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Advisory Committee, and details the number of improvements in the technology utilized by the Clerk’s Staff to provide better and more effective service to the citizens of Augusta County.
More information about the online services available for the public at the Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office can be found online at www.co.augusta.va.us/government/circuit-court-clerk. The Clerk serves as the recorder of deeds, probate judge, issues marriage licenses and is the official court administrator for all civil and criminal cases. The Clerk creates and maintains all court files and records, prepares court orders and jury lists, contacts jurors and issues summons and court processes.
Circuit Court Clerk’s
Report for 2020
R. Steven Landes, Clerk
Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Report
For Calendar Year 2020
On November 18, 2019, it was my honor to be sworn in as the 17th Clerk of Circuit Court for Augusta County. It is my goal that each year which I serve as Augusta County’s Clerk of Court that I will report on the activities of this Office to the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and the Citizens of Augusta County. During the campaign for office I set out several goals in three main categories: Innovating and Working for All, Preserving and Promoting History, and Seeking Input and Advice. I am happy to report much progress has already been made on each category.
Let me expand on the progress that was made related to the three main goals outlined above. In the area of Innovating and Working for All, several technological advances have been accomplished during this past year. The first project was to upgrade and replace the recording equipment used in the courtrooms so the Clerk’s Office and staff can provide accurate records of court proceedings. For the Large Courtroom a new Polycom Video Conference System was installed with the assistance of the Supreme Court of Virginia video engineering, and Augusta County information technology staffs. This system allows court participants to participate remotely if necessary. In December we also received a new larger flat screen television, and stand for the Large Courtroom, and were able to upgrade the audio system for the courtroom as well. These purchases were made with the help of Augusta County through the CARES Act funds received due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In February during a Clerk’s Staff Workday, we located and identified old and used computer and technology equipment that had been purchased for the Clerk’s Office through the Supreme Court of Virginia, Logan Systems, Inc. (our land record vendor) and Augusta County. The old equipment that was no longer being utilized was returned to the various agencies from who it was obtained. In April, we replaced a Supreme Court back-up tape drive with a StoreOnce Cube making it possible for staff to no longer load and unload back-up tapes. The Supreme Court of Virginia replaced nine desk top computers in June, and Logan replaced or updated monitors, label printers and systems as needed. In July, work was begun on the installation of a new secure server rack and wiring and cable clean-up by the Supreme Court and Logan technicians. This extensive project was completed in October. The Augusta County Information Technology Department also pulled old hard drives from old computers to be securely stored in case information is needed in the future.
The office also worked with Logan Systems (our land record vendor) technicians to upgrade and replace our oversized plat scanner, which was installed in May. The old oversized plat scanner could not be repaired and had to be replaced. In addition to handling land record oversized plats the scanner can also be used to scan other large documents such as historic records. The Logan technicians will also be installing a digital flat scanner so that after conservation work is completed on historic records they can be scanned. Eventually in addition to saving these scanned historic records on compact discs we hope to have them available on the Circuit Court Clerk Webpage.
The Augusta County Website Circuit Court Clerk Webpage has been extensively updated throughout the year starting in December to make it easier for citizens to access information and go online for various services provided by the Clerk’s Office. Both Jackie Zetwick, Augusta County Director of Information Technology, and Mia Kivilghan, Augusta County Communications Manager, assisted with the many updates, and additions. We also updated all information on the Virginia Court System Website for the Augusta County Circuit Court.
As a newly elected Circuit Court Clerk, I attended several meetings. In December I attended the State Compensation Board New Officer Training in Richmond for two days to better understand my new responsibilities. In January I attended the State Compensation Board COIN System training in Dublin. In February I attended the two-day Supreme Court of Virginia New Clerk Orientation, and I also met with the Historic Records Staff at the Library of Virginia during that time.
To better learn the functions of the Clerk’s Office and each of the five divisions within the Clerk’s Office I have shadowed each division, but some were delayed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic so my original goal of the first six months in office was not completed. My first effort in December and January was to shadow and work closely with the Accounting Division staff to learn the Virginia Supreme Court’s Financial Accounting System, State Compensation COIN system, and Augusta County Budget process. Then in July and August I shadowed the Probate, Civil, Land Record, and Criminal Divisions. In September I shadowed our Front Desk Staff as well.
In June and July, the Clerk’s staff and I completed the Supreme Court of Virginia Augusta County Circuit Court Management Analysis Survey. The survey and analysis were reviewed, by Norma Gates, Supreme Court of Virginia Circuit Court Manager, who offered suggestions and ideas to better improve office functions and services to citizens. Overall, the Clerk’s Office received high marks. We hope to complete similar analysis every two years. In July the Auditor of Public Accounts completed the first State Audit during my tenure as Clerk. The Clerk’s Office received a clean audit.
Research and visits to both the Rockingham County and Staunton City Circuit Court Clerk’s Office was begun on the cost and use of plastic card printers for Concealed Handgun Permit (CHP) Cards issued by Clerk’s Offices. We are hoping to decide during the first quarter of 2021 on the costs, and staff workload related to moving to a plastic card printer for CHPs. Research was also begun on the possibility of assisting citizens with United States Passports. After further research and a workload analysis for staff time, it is hoped that a decision can be made on if to once again provide that service before the end of 2021.
In the area of Preserving and Promoting History much has been accomplished in 2020 as well. To begin the process of working with partners in preserving and promoting Augusta County’s history I met with leaders from the Augusta County Historical Society and Augusta County Genealogical Society beginning in December. In addition to meeting with the Library of Virginia Historic Records Staff, I also met in February with C.W. Warthen Kofile Technologies representative, Greg Brooks, to discuss past conservation and preservation efforts for Augusta County’s Historic Records. In August candidates for the new part-time position of Historic Records Assistant were interviewed, and Matthew Wingfield was hired. Additional meetings with the Augusta County Historical Society, Augusta County Genealogical Society, and Library of Virginia were conducted with the Historic Records Assistant.
In September the Augusta County Court House Historic Records Short & Long Term Plan was completed by the Historic Records Assistant and approved by me. Work was begun in September and completed in October on obtaining a Historic Designation Plaque for the Augusta County Court House, and donations were handled through the Augusta County Historical Society. The Augusta County Maintenance Staff mounted the plaque in December at the Back-Main Entrance of the courthouse. Work was completed during September and October and an application submitted to the Department of Historic Resources for a Virginia Historical Highway Marker for the Augusta County Court House, meeting the December 1 deadline for the Virginia Board of Historic Resources consideration during their March meeting.
An approximately $10,000 Library of Virginia (LVA) Circuit Court Records Preservation (CCRP) Grant application was completed and submitted in September for four important historic documents, including: Will Book No. 3 (1761-1767); Deed Book 29 (1796-1798); Order Book 24 (1796-1799), Marriage Register Colored 1888-1910. Four preserved historic documents were received from a previous LVA CCRP Grant from 2019 in November. Work has also begun on compiling and identifying an inventory of all of Augusta County’s Historic Records and Documents under the stewardship of the Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, and an effort to collect and digitize these records so they can be made available on the Circuit Court Clerk Webpage.
To promote a better understanding of the Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office a Clerk’s Internship Program was developed. The first college and high school interns were interviewed, and two students selected for the Fall Semester. Hannah Davis, a Junior at Mary Baldwin University, and Blake Rodgers, a Sophomore at Wilson Memorial High School, served as the very first Clerk’s Interns. Both interns have worked with the various divisions in the Clerk’s Office and the Clerk’s staff from August to December.
For the goal of Seeking Input and Advice I believe the office has made great progress as well. The Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Advisory Committee has been formed and conducted an organizational meeting in August at the Augusta County Court House. The Advisory Committee has not been able to meet as often as we had planned because of the COVID-19 Pandemic but hope to return to regular meetings during 2021.
Membership on the Advisory Committee includes representation from the Augusta County Bar Association, Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce, Augusta County Historical Society, Augusta County Genealogical Society, Staunton-Augusta County African American Research Society, Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia, the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, the Augusta County School Board, and at-large Augusta County Citizens. Former Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk John Davis serves as the Advisory Committee’s Chairman.
The Clerk’s Office has developed an updated presentation that can be made to various civic clubs and organizations related to the Clerk’s Office responsibilities, and the history of Augusta County and the Augusta County Court House. I have made one presentation to the Fort Harrison Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution along with Rockingham County Clerk of Circuit Court Chaz Haywood, and after the COVID-19 Pandemic subsides hope to be able to do more in the coming year.
In addition, I have personally met with several individuals seeking input on the functions of the Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. These include: Judge Chapman Goodwin, 25th Circuit Court Chief Judge; Rusty Sprouse, Augusta County Facilities Director; Timothy Martin, Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney; Donald Smith, Augusta County Sheriff; Christy Hostetter, 25th General District Court Clerk; Nancy Sorrells, President of the Augusta County Historical Society; Teresa Smith, 25th Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Clerk; Tom Roberts, Former Staunton City Circuit Court Clerk: Staci Falls, Staunton City Circuit Court Clerk; Jean Shrewsbury, Augusta County Commissioner of the Revenue; Richard Homes, Augusta County Treasurer; Alan Garrison, Augusta County Commissioner of Accounts; Greg Crawford, Library of Virginia Historic Records Manager; Chaz Haywood, Rockingham County Circuit Court Clerk; Timothy Fitzgerald, Augusta County Administrator; Misty Cook, Augusta County Finance Director; Faith Duncan, Augusta County Human Resources Director; Mia Kivilghan, Augusta County Communications Manager; Jackie Zetwick, Augusta County Information Technology Director; Judge Paul Dryer, 25th Circuit Court Judge; Judge Anne Reed, 25th Circuit Court Judge; and Tony Davenport, Director District 12 Probation and Parole.
Above and beyond meeting and working on the goals I set out last year both the Clerk’s Staff and I have worked to hone our skills and learn more about how our office can be more effective and efficient. To accomplish this all full-time staff are members of the Virginia Court Clerk’s Association (VCCA). Five Deputy Clerks have achieved the Master Deputy Clerk Certification, and one Deputy Clerk is currently enrolled to become a Master Deputy Clerk. All our remaining Deputy Clerks are also taking ongoing webinars and training as am I in the hopes of enrolling in the certification program administered by the VCCA when we can qualify. I was also selected to serve on the VCCA Legislative Committee and Public Relations Committee.
In addition to hiring a part-time Historic Records Assistant, the Clerk’s Office also filled two vacant full-time positions and one new full-time position. Due to the reallocation of funding from the State Compensation Board and an increased workload, the position of Administrative Assistant was created. The position was advertised, candidates were interviewed, and Nancy Hevener was hired for the position. For the two vacant positions, one due to a staff retirement, and one due to a staff member leaving at the end of the year, the positions of Deputy Clerk for the Criminal Division, and Deputy Clerk and Land Recorder were advertised, and candidates interviewed. Christy Wiskeman was hired for the Criminal Division, and Lisa Eye was hired for as the new Land Recorder. All three new staff members started in February. Faith Duncan, Augusta County Director of Human Resources, was extremely helpful during the entire process.
To better communicate the work of the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office we have issued 15 press releases on various topic and issues of interest to the citizens of Augusta County. These have also been posted on social media, and on my personal website for review as well. In addition, I have sent out 12 editions of Landes Letters Newsletters via email, and social media as well on the Clerk’s Office activities. To better organize the Clerk’s Office, we have removed and destroyed records that were not necessary to keep, and better organized and secured the files we must keep. Working with the Augusta County Maintenance Staff we have better utilized our courthouse space and made repairs and maintenance of the building a priority. The County Maintenance Staff has also produced updated signage in the building to better assist the public in finding various offices and divisions of the Clerk’s Office.
It is my hope that you have found this first Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Report for 2020 of interest, and helpful. If you have any questions regarding this information, or the duties and responsibilities of the Circuit Court Clerk, please feel free to contact me at the Augusta County Court House at 540-245-5321, Ext. 100 or email me at [email protected]. Thank you for your interest in and support of the Augusta County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.