Wednesday, December 05, 2007


There was a lot of media attention on the Democrats winning five row house offices in Montgomery County last month. Two of these were prothonotary and clerk of courts. The general public (and some political insiders) may have wondered what the heck a prothonotary is and why it mattered.

Let’s take a look at these two offices and how they intersect. First off, one might think the word is pronounced pro/tho/notary, but it isn’t; it’s pro/thon/a/tory. So now you can say it at cocktail parties without fear of embarrassment.

Both offices handle the paperwork of the court system but one is civil and one is criminal. If you are getting a divorce or are party to a lawsuit with a neighbor, you file your papers on the civil side, with the prothonotary. If are accused of embezzlement, etc., it is on the criminal side and you deal with the clerk of courts. Or at least that is how I understand it. Others are welcome to chime in.

To get the local views on it, here are how Bucks and Montgomery County define the positions.


Bucks County

The office of the Prothonotary is the Clerk of the Civil Division of the Court of Common Pleas. This elected row officer has administrative control over and responsibility for all official documents and records of the civil and family divisions. It is the duty of the office to record such legal documents as Appeals, Assignments, Commencement of Actions, Equity, Divorce, Complaints, Executions, Final Orders, Judgments, Liens, Name Change Petitions, Signatures of Notaries Public, Satisfactions, Subpoena's, Exceptions to Judicial or Tax Sales, Revivals and Minor's Compromise. Additionally, the Office of the Prothonotary initiates judgments entered by magisterial district justices to the Court of Common Pleas. The prothonotary also processes appeals from the magisterial district justices to the Court of Common Pleas as well as appeals from the Court of Common Pleas to the Superior, Supreme and Commonwealth Courts.

The mission of the Office is to see that these documents are docketed, microfilmed and processed timely and in accordance with State requirements.

Montgomery County

The Prothonotary is the Chief Clerk of the Civil Court. The word is of Greek origin, and it means "First Clerk." The Prothonotary's office of Montgomery County is responsible for filing, storing, and distributing official civil documents.

Clerk of Courts

Bucks County
The mission of the Clerk of Courts office is to provide a wide range of services to the public, judicial systems, county government and other agencies. Employees, in performing their constitutional and statutory duties are committed to operation in a fair, helpful and efficient manner. We accomplish this by maintaining high professional standards through employee training and technology optimization.

Montgomery County
The Clerk of Courts is the clerk of the criminal court and retains custody of all original cases. The office maintains a computerized index and docket in which a record is kept of all documents filed in each case.

Court costs and restitution are assessed and collected for each case. These court related costs are distributed in accordance with the law to the appropriate municipal, county and state offices and restitution victims.

The office is responsible for the collection of bail money and its return to the surety upon completion of court action.

The office maintains miscellaneous records and dockets relating to the division of election districts, the appointment of election officials, constables and private detectives.

Delaware County

Not unexpectedly, Delaware County does it differently and has combined these two offices into one.

Office of Judicial Support

Prior to the adoption of the Home Rule Charter, the functions of this office were performed by the Office of the Clerk of Courts and the Office of the Prothonotary. The office now functions under one department head, Deborah Gaston, with an additional Criminal Division and a Civil Division.

The Criminal Division is responsible for case files in all criminal cases processed from the local District Justices. In addition, the division handles the posting of bail, the return of bail, summary appeals and appeals to the appellate courts.

The Civil Division handles all civil cases which involve suits by individuals, unincorporated and incorporated businesses, liens against properties and judgments on individuals are also filed and maintained in this office.

The office also provides a Court Clerk for each sitting judge and others handling matters pertaining directly to the courts. Notaries must register their signatures in this office.

Now you know.

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