Monday, July 14, 2014

Guest Post on Clerks from Feroz Merchant

Since I am sadly way behind on writing anything these days (blame the 25 lb., 8 month old individual who lives with me), my dear friend, Feroz Merchant, asked if he could do a guest post to share his thoughts about some of our often overlooked court co-workers.

As an attorney that practices regularly in the criminal justice center here in Harris County, I get to meet and deal with a great number of people. In my 14 years as an attorney, I’ve been a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney. This means being in court almost very morning. What I’ve noticed is that the clerks (sitting by the Judge) are always busy. They seem to get there before anyone and are there long after most have already left. They often spend lunches at the desk working and that too after continuously working and responding to several people at the same time. It’s multitasking that really amazing to watch. These folks are one of the hardest working people out there.

I decided to look up their job description and was amazed at what they are responsible. Since I work primarily in the criminal justice center, I have first hand knowledge about the clerks that practice there; having said that, I’m confident that the those in the other courts (civil, family & juvenile) work just as hard (where several trees worth of paper need to be sorted and filed).

They clerks are responsible for keeping the records of the court safe, record proceedings, enter all judgments under the direction of the judge, record all executions issued and the returns issued on the executions, keep an index of the parties to all suits filed in the court, and make reference to any judgment made in the case, keep track of who is on the jury panel, track those that are selected, take in all subpoenas, motions, attorney fee vouchers, determine and enter jail credit and to respond to all the attorneys various inquires while the courts in session. And all this has to be correct. And that too all the time, for every case. A mistake could affect someone’s liberty or a victim’s right to justice. This is a job that demands perfection and dedication.

I then decided to look up what someone in that position makes. I was shocked to learn that even after a few years on the job the pay is still at around $13/hour. Some may say that it’s a job and one should be grateful. I believe we are all grateful for what we’ve been blessed with. But a position of clerk, with all its responsibilities does require recognition; when one has been charged with great responsibility and they fulfill it each and every time – there has to be just compensation.

I think they deserve a raise. Not sure what is possible with budget constraints. And I’m sure the elected district clerk is aware and is in the process of doing something about it.  But I think they do deserve a raise, its something that needs to be acknowledged and I along with my fellow criminal defense attorneys thank them for always being there and doing a great job. Your commitment to your job and the community is appreciated.


Chris Daniel said...

I want a raise too.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the main reasons I left the DCO. Not all clerks do the same amount, or quality of work. But, there are many that are severely underpaid. I have heard that budget is the main reason for the low pay. This would be easier to accept if upper management/administration salaries weren't so high in comparison.

I would guess low pay is the main reason for high turnover with clerks. The DCO could keep more quality clerks around if the pay were more appropriate for the work performed.

Dodie Sheffield said...

Thank you for your kind words, Feroz. While a clerk's job is busy, demanding, and sometimes stressful, I enjoy it as do many of my colleagues. I read recently that one of the secrets to happy employees is positive recognition. Thank you for doing just that.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your kind words, Feroz. While a clerk's job is busy, demanding, and at times stressful, I and many of my colleagues enjoy it. I read recently that one of the secrets to happy workplace is positive recognition. Thank you for doing just that.

Chris Daniel said...

Great Post. We, with the help of the new County Budget Director Bill Jackson, were finally allocated money for raises from Commissioners Court, after I have been in office 3 1/2 years loudly clamoring for money for our line level employees.

We not only gave every non-management employee a raise (unless they were in discipline or a new hire; in which case their raise was delayed temporarily), but we raised the floor and ceiling on all such positions so as to meet the general rising cost-of-living and to be competitive with other county agencies.

It is sad that in most cases my employees had not had a COLA or merit raise since 2008. This was compounded by a county-wide hiring freeze in 2009. In many instances, the only way we could give money to anyone was to cannibalize open positions (which only shifted work burden elsewhere). Yes there have been cost savings with technology; and yes positions do become unnecessary over time. But the rising cost of living and the Market that Houston is currently in has vastly surpassed money allocated by the county to give appropriate raises and COLA adjustments--technology savings notwithstanding.

Working with the New Budget Director, we have shifted our budget model so as to protect the future raises and increases (provided by the raised floor and ceilings of the positions). This is in addition to eliminating or consolidating upper level positions as appropriate.

We at my office are thankful for the help from both Commissioners Court and The Harris County Budget Office, with special mention to David Kester at Human Resources and Risk Management.

Chris Daniel
Harris County District Clerk

Anonymous said...

"new County Budget Director..."

1. His title is, "Chief Budge Officer"

2. Bill Jackson is hardly "new."

3. Harris County is luck to have Bill.

Instead of trying to be cute & funny, be a true leader and respond to an excellent post by saying:

(a) Feroz, I agree - these clerks do more than most could ever know.

(b) Feroz, I agree - our clerks are grossly underpaid

(c) Feroz, I agree - Harris County clerks deserves a raise as much as Chris Daniel requires political/leadership education.

Grow up; or, at least, shut up. And, go pass the bar.