First-year district clerk working to winnow old files
When Donna Huston took office as the district clerk last year, little did she know the task ahead.
The Texas Library Archives Commission sets guidelines for how long physical records and documents must be retained. Different cases have different retention schedules.
“The retention schedule has not been followed for many years. There are 1,500 boxes of files that are in the care, custody and control of the district clerk’s office. Some of the files have been scanned into our existing database, some have been scanned onto microfilm and some have not been scanned at all,” Huston explained. “I contracted with an outside vendor to scan, digitize and index all our records. As the files are scanned, Precision Micrographics is re-boxing the files according to type and year so we can determine if the file needs to be retained or can be destroyed according to the retention schedule set out by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. My office is now in compliance with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission for the first time since 2004.”
Huston is also proud her office has updated the jury program where they have uploaded exemptions and disqualifications to the secretary of state.
“I was notified by our service provider that this had not been done in many years. Uploading these exemptions and disqualifications removes Wood County residents who are exempt and keeps them from receiving jury summons in the future,” Huston said. “In 2019, we mailed summonses out for 38 jury trials which equaled approximately 9,000 jury summonses. Out of those 9,000 mailed out, we received about 4,200 summonses back claiming an exemption or disqualification. I then manually removed those out of the system so the list can be uploaded to the secretary of state.”
Courtroom procedures have been streamlined and re-organized on criminal plea dates to maximize efficiency in the courtroom and to ensure the safety of the district clerk’s staff. According to Huston, the district clerk’s office has been de-cluttered, reorganized and rearranged to be more accessible to the public.
Huston and her staff have begun reorganizing the evidence room.
“We have created two inventory lists, one containing evidence and exhibits that need to be retained and one containing a list of evidence and exhibits that may be destroyed using the retention schedule set out by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission,” Huston added.
The district clerk’s office worked with the information technology department and the auditor’s office to update the new criminal fee schedule set out by the 86th Legislature. Certain fees and fines had been repealed and new court costs became effective Jan. 1, 2020. It was imperative to update information and codes to match the new fines and fees so judgments on criminal cases are correct.
There were several historical books the public frequently accessed. The pages in the books were being torn and starting to deteriorate.
“The commissioners allotted funds to me so that I could have these books scanned, digitized and indexed,” Huston said. “This information is now saved on CDs that can be opened on a computer located in the district clerk’s office.”
Huston’s office has four full-time deputies. Civil deputies are Jennifer Moser and Amerlee King, and criminal deputies are Chelsey Ragsdale and Brooke Blalock.
“All are crossed-trained and can step into other roles if someone is out of the office. They are very professional, courteous and have the hearts of servants,” Huston said. “I am so very proud of my staff and value each and every one of them. They make my life much easier. We consider ourselves as family.”
Huston is thankful to be the district clerk.
“I have worked diligently to improve my office in areas that needed improvement and will continue to do so. I also want to thank my family and my staff for having faith in me,” Huston said. “I absolutely love my job and look forward to another productive year with many more to come.”