By GRACE GADDY
PALESTINE — Janice Staples first took office as Anderson County District Clerk in 2003. Now, nearly 12 years later, she has announced plans to seek reelection and “keep doing my best” in the position.
Staples filed to run on the March 4 Republican Primary election ticket on Nov. 11.
Over the course of three terms, Staples has been voted Legal Professional of the Year twice by the Anderson County Legal Professionals Association, for which she has served both as president and treasurer.
She also served on a handful of committees for the District Clerk's Association of Texas. In 2011, she was nominated for “District Clerk of the Year” by Region VI of the association, for which she served as director from June 2012-2013, and is serving as director in charge this year, from June 2013-2014.
Staples said her main job as district clerk is to serve as “custodian of the records,” which includes preserving, indexing and securing the files of civil, family and felony criminal cases.
She said the office also manages and safeguards a collection of court fees and financials, working closely with the Attorney General's Office in Austin, their regional offices in Nacogdoches and the State Disbursement Unit in San Antonio regarding child support.
During her terms, Staples has seen the office go through many a time of transition.
“I've worked in the office for 17 years, five years under the previous district clerk Maxine Barnette,” she said. “We have come from writing things in big books and in-file folders to everything is on a computer now.”
Staples said “upgrading the technology” was the biggest transition she'd had to take on, noting the Supreme Court's recent mandate that lawyers file documents electronically.
“We have begun the process to begin e-filing,” Staples said. “Our county, based on its population, is mandated to begin July 1, 2015.”
To accomplish this, the office met with the county's information technology (IT) department to see what kind of equipment they would need to bolster the electronic filing initiative.
“And they have determined that they are going to have to upgrade their server for the volume of e-filing that will begin to come in electronically rather than on paper,” Staples said.
She said her office learned the ropes on e-filing by working with the Sixth Court of Appeals in Texarkana, which started the process earlier. The Texarkana court is one of two Texas courts that the office works with extensively, the other being the 12th Court of Appeals in Tyler.
“So we learned with the Sixth Court of Appeals how to file electronic clerk's records,” Staples said – knowledge that she hopes to share with others in the community. She presented an idea recently to the Anderson County Legal Professionals Association of putting together a class and support group for other professionals dealing with the mandate.
“I've talked with the legal association at our meeting and offered to come up with a class that wouldhelp any secretary or someone that needed it, some training on how to e-file,” Staples said. “So that's something in the works that I'm going to be getting together to provide for any attorney's office or anybody that actually needs to do any e-filing.
“They're going to need training on the software, and I think with the experience that my two ladies have with the e-filing and the courts of appeals, we can help other secretaries in town. So I'm just trying to build a support group locally. If you need help, you can come to me or one of the others.”
Speaking of training, Staples said her entire office is cross-trained.
“You can't function in an office without cross-training. I have two ladies that can handle child support, three ladies bookkeeping, two criminal, four that can do civil,” Staples explained. “Everybody's cross-trained.”
The office was thrown a few glitches, however, when software problems caused the county to experience technical difficulties – and delays. This resulted in the removal of a public computer used for looking up files.
“And I was really frustrated about that because it's really out of our hands. It's all to do with the software. We got that new software in 2010, and it has been a nightmare,” Staples said. “We couldn’t get reports to work, we couldn’t get the images, half of it was gone.”
On top of this, “expunged” documents were still showing in the system.
“Once a record is expunged, it's not supposed to be viewable at all,” she explained. “When you put that public view station up there, they have access to the sheriffs office, their stuff. It had been deleted from the district clerk's portion of it, but the sheriff's portion was still showing it. We pulled it, because that's against the law.”
Therefore, Staples said the “biggest thing” she's looking to do in the office is to get everything electronically sorted out and updated.
“It's up to the software department, the software company,” she said. “The hope is that we can someday soon, that the software company will get the software fixed so we can have a view station that would save us a lot of time and the public a lot of time. It's not fun for us to have to go pull a file.”
As for next term, Staples said she felt most qualified for the job and was committed to giving her best to the citizens of Anderson County.
“All you can do is the best you can do,” she said, noting her commitment to faith and adding that she hoped people would turn out to vote.
“That's a God-given right. And I think Christian people ought to be involved so that we can make a difference spiritually.”