With the Nov. 8 election now less than three weeks away, candidates are wrapping up campaigns and preparing to see if their efforts were enough to sway voters.
The Chronicle spoke to incumbent Lewis County Clerk Scott Tinney and his challenger Linda Williams — both Republicans — about the issues they want at the forefront in the minds of voters as they head to the polls.
The Need for a Court Facilitator
A big issue in Williams’ eyes Is the lack of an in-house court facilitator in the clerk’s office. In the past, the Lewis County Clerk’s Office relied on a volunteer court facilitator from Lewis County Bar Legal Aid. The service ended before COVID-19 when Lewis County Bar Legal Aid shut down, according to Tinney.
A court facilitator is someone who specializes in helping people navigate the legal system and prepare paperwork, generally in family law cases.
“The in-house court facilitator position I am referring to would be available and benefit all citizens who choose to utilize it in our community, as opposed to mainly the low-income folks,” Williams said.
While she still wants low-income families to have access to the facilitator, she believes one should be readily available for everyone to use no matter their financial status. Williams added that an in-house facilitator is not a new concept and several surrounding counties already employ them, including Benton, Kitsap, Chelan, Clark and Franklin counties.
“In the end, it will save litigants time and money and cut down on docket time for our courts simultaneously. I do not anticipate having to increase the budget to make it work and it will be primarily a self-funded service,” Williams said.
She stated that she’s heard citizens and local family law attorneys call for a facilitator’s return to the county courts.
Tinney also wants to see the return of a court facilitator, but he wants the position to remain a volunteer one as it was pre-COVID-19.
“Historically, Lewis County Bar Legal Aid did the facilitation. We had a contract with them and they provided that service,” Tinney said.
Before the pandemic arrived, Tinney said he was in contact with Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services. But once the pandemic started, talks ended as the job of a facilitator is not one that can be done remotely. Tinney added that Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services provides legal services to five counties including Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific and Thurston counties.
“The idea is to pay that money that used to go to Lewis County Bar Legal Aid and pay that money to help fund a position that would be down here on scheduled days to offer that facilitation,” Tinney said.
Both Williams and Tinney see the need for the facilitator’s return to the courthouse in Lewis County, as both mentioned cases in the past where they have seen citizens take time off to go to court only to discover they didn’t have the right forms ready and would need to come back to court on another day.
The Need for Electronic Document Filing
Tinney and Williams both said they plan to implement a modern electronic document filing system in the courts.
Williams wants an electronic filing system to save citizens travel time and expenses when trying to file court documents.
“Lewis County is geographically wide and litigants can spend a substantial amount of time traveling in order to get their documents filed with our Lewis County Superior Court that is seated in Chehalis,” Williams said. “A drive from Packwood to Chehalis is about one and a quarter hours just one way.”
She added that electronic filing would also give more freedom to both attorneys and their clients, as documents could be filed outside of the normal county clerk office hours.
Tinney said he has been working with other county offices for several years to implement an electronic filing system but the process has been delayed.
“It’s been delayed for reasons related to some lower courts. Municipal and district courts are transitioning to a new document imaging system that’s tied into AOC (Administrative Office of the Courts), who runs all of this stuff. We kind of got put on the back burner for our electronic filing because they were diverting all of their resources to get those guys converted over,” Tinney said.
According to Tinney, the AOC is once again working with his office to implement an electronic document filing system. He hopes to see the system working by next year. He added that he plans to keep hard copies of documents around as a backup should the electronic system crash as well as an option for document filing for those who aren’t technologically inclined.
Williams agreed with wanting to retain hard copies of documents for the courts.
“I want to have it (electronic filing) available as an option for filing, not as a mandatory method,” Williams said.
A Final Look at Their Goals and Qualifications
Tinney has over 30 years of experience as both a county clerk and deputy clerk in both Lewis and Thurston counties. He claimed that the best experience for his position was working in a clerk’s office to begin with, an experience his opponent does not have.
“There are many county clerks throughout the state who did not work in a county clerk’s office prior to being elected. In fact, the two women who were elected and served as Lewis County clerks immediately prior to Tinney taking the reins served in other legal venues but did not work in a county clerk’s office prior to being elected,” Williams said.
Williams’ experience and knowledge of the law stems from her education. She has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and has also earned a paralegal diploma.
“I have the training to do the clerk’s job without the experience in other agencies, but those duties I had in the other courts provided additional skills, experience and perspective which supplement my formal education and training,” Williams said.
Since initially getting elected in 2017, Tinney said the Lewis County Clerk’s Office is now run much more efficiently due to his leadership.
“Lines of communication between superior court and the clerk’s office were in need of some repair. I made that one of my top priorities, to repair relationships between the clerk’s office and superior court as well as the prosecutor’s office and sheriff’s office. Because we’re so interconnected with the flow of paperwork, you can’t operate efficiently unless you have that,” Tinney said.
He said he believes he’s done an excellent job in repairing those relationships, which has improved customer service at the clerk’s office.
“The reputation that this clerk’s office has now is that this is a good office to go to. The customer service is second to no office in this county. We are customer focused,” Tinney said.
When Tinney first became county clerk, many clerk’s office employees were probationary and now almost all are full time and have no current plans to leave, Tinney said.
“I have worked hard to create a place where once people start working there, they want to stay working there. I haven’t had a vacancy in over a year until recently when someone left to go work in a different court. But there isn’t the constant turnover and training that was a problem when I took over this office,” Tinney said.
While Williams hasn’t served in a county clerk’s office yet, she has worked in other various legal roles including having served as a Lewis County Juvenile Court guardian ad litem and a Lewis County Superior Drug Court office intern. She job-shadowed the Lewis County Drug Court manager and was an intake and court watch clerk for Lewis County Bar Legal Aid.
She has also served in other publicly elected roles including freeholder, cemetery commissioner, precinct committee officer and served as the vice chair of the Lewis County Public Health and Social Services Advisory Committee.
“Money is nice, but I’m not running because I need the job. I sincerely care about our community and believe our citizens deserve a representative with a servant mindset; one who is not only looking for ways to make operations more efficient, but who has a goal of providing outstanding service to its citizens with an attitude of excitement and enthusiasm. I hold these qualities and would be honored to serve them in this capacity. I humbly ask for their vote,” Williams said.
Williams added she has been endorsed by retired Lewis County Clerk Kathy Brack, who served in the role for 12 years. A full list of her endorsements as well as more information about her and her campaign can be found on https://www.electlindawilliams.com/.
If reelected, Tinney hopes to continue working on the improvements he has already made.
“Serving the citizens of the county that I live in has been a very rewarding experience. To be here and be able to make a difference, to continue with the improvements to the operations of the clerk’s office to better serve the citizens, to leave that with someone who has zero experience actually working in a clerk’s office would be a disservice,” Tinney said.
Tinney has received endorsements as well from a variety of other elected officials including Rep. Peter Abbarno, Sheriff Rob Snaza and Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope. A full list of his endorsements as well as more information about him and his campaign can be found on https://www.facebook.com/voteforscotttinney/.
Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.