Bucks County Clerk of Courts Mary Smithson is running for re-election in the upcoming election on Nov. 5. She has held the position for more than 20 years. But many people are not even aware of what her office entails.
So what does a Clerk of Courts do? The Bensalem Rotary Club invited Smithson as a speaker Tuesday so she could explain her role in the county.
As an independent office, the Clerk of Courts is elected to a four year term. Whoever holds the position works with the county’s judges, especially with the president judge.
During her tenure, Smithson has worked closely with seven president judges. Currently, Wallace “Skip” Bateman Jr. holds the position.
“Nothing moves without the president judge,” Smithson said.
As Clerk of Courts, Smithson manages 27 employees who work on civil and criminal cases. Among many responsibilities, they manage court records, catalog evidence, and ensure people receive restitution.
“Our information has to be correct. There can be no mistakes,” Smithson articulated.
The Clerk of Courts can file a lien for restitution. If someone does not pay their court ordered amount, they cannot get a mortgage or house.
Smithson holds the accolade of being the first Clerk of Courts in Pennsylvania to contract with an outside collection agency. This has allowed Bucks County to collect $5 million since 2017 at no cost to taxpayers.
As for evidence, the employees catalog every single piece. Each item is then sent to an undisclosed location. In murder cases, the evidence is held in perpetuity.
Currently, the Bucks court system handles 8,000 cases per year. This is down from 10,000 several years ago.
For Smithson, the hardest ones are always child welfare cases. It is up to the court system and social workers to ensure the safety of these children, some of whom are addicted to drugs like cocaine as infants.
Smithson also created a Clerk of Courts internship. Her aim is to show students what life in the courts is really like. She sends them to Philadelphia Federal Court, organizes police ride alongs, and an inside look with a Bucks detective, and even time with an FBI agent.
One Rotary member asked Smithson about Marsy’s Law, which will also be on the ballot on Nov. 5. The law would amend Pennsylvania’s constitution to grant statutory protections to those who have suffered as crime victims.
While she was unable to comment either way regarding her personal opinion, she stated Bucks County always prioritizes the rights of crime victims. Smithson stated the situation in Bucks would likely change little, but would make much more of a difference elsewhere in the Commonwealth.
Bensalem Council President Joseph Knowles listened attentively, and says he learned a lot.
“I think Mary did a tremendous job,” Knowles said. “It’s very involved, being Clerk of Courts. I did not know she had so many employees. She was very informative and professional as usual. I really enjoyed it.”