The office of county clerk is established by the Texas Constitution, which states, “There shall be elected for each county, by the qualified voters, a county clerk, who shall hold his office for four years, who shall be clerk of the county and Commissioners Courts and recorder of the county, whose duties, perquisites and fees of office shall be prescribed by the Legislature, and a vacancy in whose office shall be filled by the Commissioners Court, until the next general election.”
In counties with populations less than 8,000, a combination county/district clerk may be elected unless the voters choose to elect separate offices. County clerks must be bonded prior to assuming office and must obtain an errors and omissions insurance policy for themselves and all deputies.
Most of the current duties of the office stem from an 1846 law that required county clerks to record “all deeds, mortgages, conveyances, deeds of trust, bonds, covenants, defeasances, or other instruments of writing, of or concerning any lands, and tenements, or goods and chattels, or moveable property of any description…” This law also stated that all marriage contracts, powers of attorney, and official bonds be recorded. Today, the majority of the duties still pertain to the receipt, custody and issuance of a wide array of documents, instruments, certificates, licenses and other official papers in addition to the clerk’s duties to the county courts.
As clerk for the County Commissioners Court, the county clerk or designated representative is required to attend all sessions and record all proceedings. The office is charged with keeping all books, papers, records and effects belonging to the Commissioners Court. Other duties may include assisting the County Judge in preparing the court agenda and posting notice for each court meeting. In addition, the clerk may handle correspondence for the court, assist the Commissioners Court members as they sit on special committees, and perform other services requested by the court.
As the clerk of the constitutional county court and county courts at law, the county clerk works with judges, grieving families, defendants and jurors. These courts include at law probate courts, mental health courts, juvenile courts and county criminal courts. The clerk’s duties in these courts are varied and include filing cases, issuing processes, maintaining minutes of proceedings, collecting costs and fines, and arranging for commitments and appeals. Jurisdictional transfers between county and district courts are also handled by the county clerk’s office.
The county clerk is responsible for administering all county and state elections, including early voting and primaries, unless the Commissioners Court has transferred this function to the tax assessor-collector or county elections administrator.
Various statutes, court opinions, and attorney general opinions detail the county clerk’s duty to serve as the county recorder. As the county’s recorder, the clerk’s role is to determine if a document is suitable for filing and to file, record and index many different documents. The clerk also is responsible for developing and administering a records management program, ensuring the preservation of valuable and essential records, and cooperating and complying with the Texas State Library. All birth and death certificates as well as marriage licenses are maintained in this office. Additionally, the clerk acts as the liaison to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, a division of the Texas Department of Health.
Other record-keeping duties of the county clerk include recording all real estate instruments, subdivision maps/plats, financial records, elected officials’ monthly reports, federal and state tax liens, abstract judgments, juvenile records and military records. This position requires knowledge of a great many laws, recording fees, acknowledgment requirements and indexing.
The clerk also handles probate records, mental/chemical dependency proceeding records, and doing business under assumed names. The county records manager is in charge of filming and storage of all required county records from 1856 to present and must comply with state records retention mandates.
If a county does not have a county surveyor, the county clerk is to act as the custodian of the county surveyor records. All county officials who are required to execute a bond before undertaking the duties of office must have their bond kept and recorded in the county clerk’s office. Other responsibilities include maintaining records on all wills, probates, deed records, deeds of trust, liens and abstracts. Identification methods for all livestock must be recorded with the clerk of the county in which the animals are located.
A great deal of money is collected by this office in the form of fines, fees of court, and marriage license fees. Other collected fees include filing fees, costs for certified copies, court fees that stay in the county, miscellaneous copies, and beer license fees.
County clerks are required to attain 20 hours during each calendar year that begins after election or appointment. Newly elected or appointed clerks must complete at least one hour training regarding registry funds handled under chapter 117 and at least one hour regarding fraudulent court documents and fraudulent document filing within the first 12 months of taking office. Clerks who have served one or more terms must receive an hour of training on each of these two topics within the first year of the new term.
– By Richard O. Avery, Ph.D., County Relations Officer, Texas Association of Counties
Former Director, V.G. Young Institute of County Government, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System
District clerks are called on to assure that the affairs of the district courts are maintained objectively with the full confidence of judicial authorities. Even though district courts are state offices, they have become an integral part of county government. The duties of the office are virtually all judicial and pertain to the district court. These duties are extensive and interface with each phase of the judicial process.
The office of district clerk has been included in every Texas Constitution since the Republic. The Texas Constitution states, “There shall be a clerk for the district court of each county, who shall be elected by the qualified voters and who shall hold his office for four years, subject to removal by information, or by indictment of a grand jury, and conviction of a petit jury. In case of vacancy, the judge of the district court shall have the power to appoint a clerk, who shall hold until the office can be filled by election.”
In counties with populations less than 8,000, a combination county/district clerk may be elected unless voters authorize separate offices. All new clerks, their deputies and employees must be bonded and insured against liabilities incurred through errors or omissions and loss from burglary, theft, robbery, counterfeit currency or destruction.
The primary role of the office is supporting the district court system; this role is essential to the court’s smooth operation. Depending on the makeup of the judicial districts in a county, a district clerk may serve one or more district courts whose districts include the clerk’s county. However, a single district court whose district includes multiple counties would be served by the various district clerks of each county.
The district court hears many types of cases including felony criminal, family, juvenile, delinquent tax and greater value civil cases. The district clerk is the official recorder, registrar and custodian of all court pleadings, instruments and papers that are part of any district court case.
Other duties include indexing and securing all court records, recording all court verdicts, collecting filing fees, and handling funds held in litigation and money awarded to minors. Often present in the courtroom, a district clerk files documents; administers oaths to defendants, witnesses and jurors; and assists the judge in managing the docket.
After a court case is filed, the clerk may be requested by an attorney or directed by court order to issue certain documents. Some of the documents issued may include a citation to notify a party that a case was filed, a warrant to have someone arrested, a protective order to keep someone from harm, a writ to garnish wages, an order to sell property, or an execution to have someone put to death. Any payable fees for processing these documents also are collected by the clerk’s office. These fees are then distributed to the proper state and local agencies on a monthly basis. The district clerk performs all of these duties from the time a case is filed through disposition, appeal and ancillary proceedings that may occur for many years after judgment.
Additional responsibilities include maintaining a list of court fines and jury fees. Included in the statement is the name of the party from whom a fine or jury fee was received, the name of each juror who served during the term, the number of days served, and the amount due the juror for the services.
The district clerk is the officer of the court in charge of the jury selection process and acts as a liaison between the jurors, courts and employers. This responsibility includes summoning, selecting, swearing and impaneling both petit and grand juries for district courts.
A significant number of miscellaneous duties are assigned to this office. These include accepting passport applications in counties with no local passport agency, taking depositions of witnesses, and administering oaths and affirmations. According to statutory requirements, the district clerk also gathers data and reports to many state and local agencies. This extensive reporting assists the county, the state and the Legislature in determining the proper operation of the courts, the effectiveness of the statutes, and the need for changes.
The office of the district clerk is responsible for receiving and disbursing child support payments in cases filed prior to 1994. With the implementation of Federal Welfare Reform legislation in 1996, district clerks have been working in cooperation with the Office of the Attorney General to implement a centralized State Disbursement Unit (SDU) for child support. Offices have the option to maintain customer involvement through local customer service, state case registry, and/or local disbursement of child support checks.
District clerks are required to attain 20 hours during each calendar year that begins after election or appointment. Newly elected or appointed clerks must complete at least one hour training regarding registry funds handled under chapter 117 and at least one hour regarding fraudulent court documents and fraudulent document filing within the first 12 months of taking office. Clerks who have served one or more terms must receive an hour of training on each of these two topics within the first year of the new term.
– By Richard O. Avery, Ph.D., County Relations Officer, Texas Association of Counties, Former Director, V.G. Young Institute of County Government, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System