Published 12:02 am Thursday, March 8, 2012

Circuit Clerk

DUTIES: The circuit clerk serves as the chief administrative and fiscal officer for the court system. The clerk is responsible for magistrate duties such as issuing warrants or filing court documents; fiscal responsibilities including managing all court monies; administrative responsibilities including personnel management, court planning, purchasing and inventory control.

THE PAY: Starting pay is $69,098.40.

Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a series about local candidates on the March 13 ballot. Candidates were invited to The Star-News office for face-to-face interviews and had no previous knowledge of the questions asked.

There are two candidates seeking the seat of Covington County Circuit Clerk on the March 13 ticket – Stephanie Cotton and Amy Jones.

Cotton has 14 years of experience in the court system ranging from court reporter to attorney.

Jones has 24 years of experience, 19 of which were as a staff attorney for the Alabama Court of Appeals. She now practices law locally.


1. For Stephanie Cotton: You are a partner in a local law firm with three other attorneys. If elected, how will you ensure there is no conflict of interest when dealing with your former partners?

1. For Amy Jones: You have a brother-in-law who is a judge and a husband practicing law. What will you do to ensure there is no conflict of interest in how you assign cases to judges?

2. The circuit clerk is responsible for collecting fines, court costs, restitution fees and other monies. What experience do you have in this type work and how will you ensure this is handled properly?

3. The circuit clerk is not legally required to have a law degree. Both you and your opponent are attorneys. How might this help you in that job?

4. If elected, what, if anything, would you change in the clerk’s office?


Stephanie Cotton

Cotton has spent the last 14 years in the court system, first as a court reporter and then as a lawyer.

1. I am unaware of any conflict of interest I would have with my law partners. The only potential were if I was named in a suit and also if it’s a criminal client of mine and I had to testify at a revocation hearing concerning court costs. I would have to get another clerk to testify.

2. I have been a businessperson for the last 14 years of my life. Everything I have had, I started from the ground up. I have actual hands on experience when it comes to fiscal responsibilities, including bookkeeping for multiple accounts. After I qualified, the first thing I did was go and get a copy of the Alabama Department of Public Examiners minimum standard accounting requirements, and conferred with Roger Powell. Through my research, I found the majority of the tasks are procedural in nature for the other areas we have an experienced, in-house bookkeeper that I can defer to.

3. Because I have practiced law here in Covington County, I have had a lot of hands on experience at the local level. I have practiced almost every area of law there is, so I’m definitely familiar with the types of motions and orders that are in those files. However, it’s all my experience that will help me with this job, which started as a court reporter. I’ve worked with and around that office for the last 14 years.

4. I always say that our clerk’s office works as a well-oiled machine and it’s one of the best circuit clerk’s offices in the state of Alabama. My goal would be to preserve the integrity of the office. However, I have asked Mr. Powell any additional changes he would make, and he would like to see a jury orientation implemented at some point, and also to see certain areas of the clerk’s office go paperless. I would defer to a combined 125 years experience that’s already in that office if I was unsure of something.


Amy Jones

Jones has 24 years experience as an attorney, spending 19 of those working as a staff attorney for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

1. I’m glad you have asked this. The circuit clerk is the chief administrative officer for Covington County, therefore he serves both the district and the circuit court and doing so, cases are filed with two different circuit judges at random. The case number is entered into the system and unless the particular judge has a conflict and recuses himself, the case is transferred to the other judge. The circuit clerk makes no decision. Neither my husband nor myself practice before Judge Short, our brother-in-law. In the clerk’s office, the procedures are black and white. The rules must be followed. There is no conflict of interest because there is no discretion there. There is no room for discretion. I, as the circuit clerk in no way have the authority to assign it to benefit my family. My cases are never assigned to Judge Short. The circuit clerk has nothing to do with that.

2. Only Roger Powell has had this experience as the circuit clerk. He has an excellent staff that has worked with him. They each have their specialized area that they handle. When I am the circuit clerk, I will ensure that the office preserves the honesty, integrity and accountability in collecting the fines, court costs, restitution and any other monies that come into the office. The circuit clerk’s office handles large amounts of money and it is so important that the clerk’s office remains transparent and open to the public. The department of public examiners, which conducts the audits for our clerk’s office, has always given our clerk’s office the highest ranking, indicating that we have not only an efficient office, but also one whose reputation is above reproach. I will ensure that that same reputation continues. Let me say this, prior to becoming an attorney, I opened my own small business, I lived within a tight budget and I always operated the business in an organized and efficient manner. My business was successful, which allowed me to attend school and obtain an MBA from Samford. I believe my business experience will help me in the clerk’s office because the clerk’s office is a “small business.” I have a financial management business degree and an MBA and a small business background. I adhere to fiscally conservative principles and always have. I will do the same thing in the clerk’s office. I will adhere to the same principles in the clerk’s office. As an attorney, I recognize that the clerk’s office is responsible for payments to some of the most vulnerable members of our society – crime victims, children needing child support payments, just to name a few. That is why the orderly flow of monies from the clerk’s office is so important. The circuit clerk is also responsible for investing monies for minors and interest-bearing accounts, which I believe we could all agree is a serious issue, which must be handled in the most efficient way possible. So, my business management background enables me to serve you.

3. I believe that my 24 years experience as an attorney coupled with my business background makes me the most qualified for this job. Not only will I be able to ensure that the clerk’s office is run in a fiscally conservative manner from a business standpoint, I will be able to provide an efficiently run office from a legal perspective as well, based on those years of working with the staff of the clerk’s office as an attorney. I worked as a staff attorney with Judge Bucky McMillan with the Alabama court of Criminal appeals for 19 years. He, by the way, was the longest serving Republican appellant judge in the state of Alabama. Under his guidance, we reviewed criminal appeals throughout the state, and those records were sent by circuit clerk’s offices throughout the state. In reviewing those records, I saw, I observed the errors that were made in the records, which needed to be sent back to the clerks’ offices and corrected. Here in our clerk’s office, Roger Powell, handles the criminal records and the compilation of those records for appeal. This is my area of expertise, therefore, I will be able to come in and handle in the most competent manner.

4. First, I would like to say that our clerk’s office is a model for the state. I cannot say with certainty that any changes need to be made until I become your next circuit clerk. If elected, I plan to create a website informing the residents of Covington County about the duties and responsibilities of the circuit clerk’s office. I believe the website should be user-friendly allowing for downloadable forms for the many services provided by the clerk’s office. I also believe that the website should contain a juror’s handbook, which would provide information on what to expect, if you have been issued a summons for jury service. I also would like to establish an online payment service either through the use of a debit or credit card, or even a smartphone, to allow the services of the office to be more accessible to our residents.