Johnson settles in at circuit clerk’s office

Cassandra “Sam” JohnsonCassandra “Sam” Johnson

By Donna Thornton/News Editor

With a successful campaign behind her, Cassandra “Sam” Johnson is enjoying getting back to work in the Etowah County Circuit Clerk’s office – occupying the clerk’s office now, rather than the deputy clerk’s.

Johnson won the office of circuit clerk last year, capping her 30 years of work in the office by becoming its leader. Johnson said she feels blessed to have the support, the encouragement and the votes of the people of Etowah County who placed her in this position.

Campaigning on her experience was the key to her campaign, Johnson said.

“I think people realized how important that experience was to being circuit clerk.

“It was a big decision for me to run,” Johnson said. “With 30 years of experience, I could have retired.” But with the current situation in the court system, with tight budgets and staffs down 50 percent she said she faced a choice: “Did I want to retire and not worry about it, or did I want to keep on and give service back to the people of Etowah County? I love helping people,” Johnson said.

Johnson decided she wanted to serve – something of a family trait. Johnson’s husband Zack, after a long career in long enforcement is working as a consultant in Afghanistan.

Johnson said he’s a contract law enforcement professional embedded with the military.

“He can’t talk about much of what he does over there. It’s very nerve-wracking,” she said.

Having him away is difficult, Johnson said, but she always has had his support, as Zack has her’s. “We are very much alike,” she explained, and she understands his commitment to serving as well.

The situation did require a family decision; should Zack take leave to help with the campaign, come home at Christmas or come home for the election.

“I said ‘I think I need you most on Election Day,’” Johnson said. Zack was able to be home for one week before and one week after the vote.

In making the decision to run, Johnson said she received tremendous encouragement to run from the judges and law enforcement personnel she’d worked with in the clerk’s office, and it continued throughout the campaign. Johnson said the part of the campaign she enjoyed the most was being able to meet so many new people and to let them know all that the clerk’s office does.

“There are nine different divisions of court,” Johnson explained, and there’s one clerk’s office to handle records and payments for them all. From small claims to class action lawsuits and capitol murder cases, the clerk’s office is involved in them all.

Now in office, Johnson said a few changes are underway to enhance efficiency in the office.

When the clerk’s office was relocated to the newly-built judicial building about 12 years ago, Johnson said she talked with then clerk Billy Yates about changing the way the offices is set up physically, so that all criminal court work is on one side of the office and all civil court processes are on the other. At the time, it was decided not to change – to keep circuit court work on one side and district court on the other.

Johnson decided now to make the change she suggested then, so that employees working in the district and circuit levels of civil court work alongside each other, as will those in district and circuit levels of criminal court.

Criminal and civil courts use different computer systems, she said.

“It’s been difficult to cross-train people who work in district and circuit divisions,” Johnson explained, when they don’t work side-by-side. The change should make cross-training easier, and that is important with the current level of funding for the Alabama court system. Sometimes employees need to be able to fill in for one another.

“Budgets are always a concern,” Johnson said. She said she has talked with newly elected Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore and the new Administrative Office of Court’s Director Rich Hobson, and believes both are committed to improving funding to the court system.

“I felt good that we won’t have any more layoffs,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the clerk’s office has seen a number of changes over the years she’s worked there. Computers have made work more efficient, though there have been some duties added with electronic filing.

“We still have customers you have to assist personally,” Johnson said. “You’re always going to have people coming in who need personal assistance.”

And she is glad be able to devote attention to them, Johnson said, as is the staff of the clerk’s office, led by deputy clerk Tina Sewell.

“I’m very glad to have things back to normal,” Johnson said.

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