ACBA, Dept. of Court Records hold productive meeting

May 12, 2017
President’s Message By Melaine Shannon Rothey

Remember the old saying – if I go to the Prothonotary’s office and I want to file a ham sammich, they have to take it, as long as I put a cover sheet on it. Well, it seems that some of our colleagues have had problems with filings being rejected by clerks at the Department of Court Records (although some of us still call it the Prothonotary or the Register of Wills). The matter was brought to the attention of the ACBA Board of Governors by Craig Fishman, who is the chair of the Civil Litigation Section. Fishman sought the permission of the board to send a letter to Michael McGeever, the department’s director. After a discussion at a recent board meeting, it was agreed that the letter would be sent under my and Fishman’s dual signatures.

In essence, the letter requested that McGeever instruct the clerks that they are not gatekeepers who have the authority to accept or reject a pleading; rather, the document should be filed and it is the responsibility of the opposing party or opposing counsel to object to the pleading in the appropriate manner or proper forum. The letter went on to cite appellate case law that states that the role of the prothonotary is “purely ministerial” and has no judicial powers or the power to act as an attorney. Finally, the letter cited specific instances in which pleadings and praecipes had been rejected, including because they did not have original signatures.

The result of the letter was a very productive and informative meeting with Hal Coffey, ACBA president– Tim Finnerty, solicitor for the Department of Court Records; Max Homer, deputy director of the department; and me, Fishman and McGeever. While not making excuses, McGeever informed us that due to retirements, his staff has seen a huge turnover in the past couple of years, which has led to new employees who must be trained. Both he and Finnerty emphasized that they have had extensive training discussions – including individual meetings since receiving our letter – with their staff members. They agreed with us that the clerks do not have the authority to reject any type of pleading and that it is up to the opposing party to object to a filing through the appropriate court.

They asked us to remind the bar that the clerks are not permitted to give legal advice, nor are they permitted to opine as to whether counsel is filing the ‘correct” document or whether the document itself is “correct.” Most importantly, they made it very clear that if an issue arises with a clerk, counsel should ask to speak to the division manager or contact one of them directly to solve the problem.

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Now that I am done with the serious stuff, I want to get back on my soapbox and discuss the issue of burnout. Burnout occurs to all of us at different points in our careers. Sometimes it can be cured by just putting your head down on your desk for a few minutes or by taking a few days away from the office. Other times, it calls for drastic measures – firing that annoying client that you hate (even though he pays his bill), telling a partner that you simply cannot put one more project on your plate or moving to a remote island and selling frothy drinks. How can we avoid getting to the point of drastic measures? Of course, I have a few ideas…

First, you must take care of No. 1. Give yourself a break. Put yourself first, for once. Decide what that means for you. Does it mean getting back into an exercise routine? Exercise is a great stress reducer. Does it mean having an evening out alone with your significant other? Dinner at a good restaurant (without cutting anyone’s chicken nuggets) and a Pirates game are a perfect solution. Does it mean getting a massage or a facial? Letting someone else take care of you for an hour or so is quite calming.

Second, make a plan for how you are going to continue to prioritize things that are important to you. We have a tendency to let work get in the way of enjoying life. Set a goal of doing something for yourself at least once a month. Not realistic? OK, once every other month. Make your goal achievable so that you do not feel defeated if you cannot meet it.

Finally, put your phone and tablet on silent for an entire weekend. Try to remember the days before you were instantly available to everyone. Boomers – that was the ’60s and the ’70s; Millennials – that was when you were a toddler.

Again, when I am in charge of the world…