One of the responsibilities of the Clerk of the Circuit Court in Virginia is keeping real estate records, such as deeds, deeds of trust (mortgages), and related documents.
When Llezelle Dugger worked as a paralegal for the law firm of Toscano & Williamson in the early 1990s, one of her tasks was to do real estate research.
“Before I went to law school,” she told the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner in an interview just before a school board candidates’ forum, “I did real estate paralegal work and loved it. I really [did]. It’s so detail-oriented, which is, I think, one of the pluses I bring to the job if I get elected.”
Dugger, who currently serves on the Charlottesville School Board, is a candidate for Clerk of the Circuit Court. In August, she defeated 30-year incumbent Paul Garrett in the Democratic party’s firehouse primary. On November 8, voters will choose between her and independent candidate Pam Melampy.
Not on line
One of the major inadequacies of the current Clerk’s office is that Charlottesville is one of only a handful of jurisdictions in Virginia in which legal records are not available on line. This extends to real estate records, Dugger said.
This is “probably the big thing that people have been seeing in the papers: real estate.”
When someone buys or sells a house or gets a mortgage, Dugger explained, “they do a title search. They have to [find] 60 years of clear title to certify that this house can be sold.”
In most courts in Virginia, she said, “you can just go on line and do the search completely on line. You don’t have to drive to the clerk’s office. You have to do that in Charlottesville.”
The lack of on-line access applies to criminal records, too.
“My understanding is we’re one of five other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth that is not on line. That means you can’t go to the Supreme Court web site and go on a pulldown menu. You won’t find Charlottesville on that pulldown menu.”
As a public defender, Dugger has seen how this works in a practical sense.
“We have a statewide public defenders’ system. I will get phone calls from my cohorts over in Virginia Beach. They can’t go on line to see if their client is telling them that he has a conviction in Charlottesville. They can’t just go on line and find” the basic details of the case. Instead, “they’ll call our office and we’ll walk over there and look” for the paper records.
“In other jurisdictions,” she pointed out, offering Richmond and Fredericksburg as examples, “you can just go on line, plug in your client’s name, and it’ll pop up if he’s ever been convicted of anything in that court house.”
In addition to taking records on line – which Dugger says “folks have been clamoring for” – she wants to improve customer service in general, “so that folks can come in, get help, get what they need, and leave satisfied.”
In seeking election to the Clerk’s office, Dugger pointed to her experience as a manager – she has run the public defender’s office summer internship program for eight or nine years – and as a member of local community boards, including as chairman of the Monticello Area Community Action Agency.
In particularly, she mentioned her experience as a School Board member overseeing a $70 million annual budget.
“I’m familiar with looking at financial statements,” she said. “I’m familiar with looking at a spreadsheet.”
Acknowledging that the circuit court clerks’ offices in both Charlottesville and Albemarle County have been audited in recent years with unsatisfactory results, Dugger noted that public funds “should be kept meticulously.”
As Clerk, she stated confidently, “I can do that.”
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