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Court Administrator

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An officer of the judicial system who performs administrative and clerical duties essential to the proper operation of the business of a court, such as tracking trial dates, keeping records, entering judgments, and issuing process.

A go-between for judges, attorneys, and clients, the court administrator essentially runs the court's business. The behind-the-scenes work of this position ranges from scheduling trial dates to handling all official correspondence. Courts produce volumes of paper; the administrator's office processes them, accepting lawsuit filings, authenticating court documents, and issuing writs and summonses. Formerly known as the clerk, the post has evolved since the mid-1980s as technology has streamlined some elements of the justice system.

State and county administrators do essentially the same job. Unlike those in past decades, nearly all administrators today are appointed by judges. Judicial appointment has helped take politics out of this powerful position, and by the mid-1990s, only the state of Montana still preserved an elected post for its court administrator. State administrators operate under statutory authority that entitles them to execute court affairs and provides an annual staff budget. County-level administrators are generally chosen by committee, with funding for their offices commonly generated by court fees.

Contemporary trends in court management have reshaped this traditional office. Technology has led the change: where once courts relied entirely on paper records, computer databases are fast becoming the norm. For example, using computer software to track trial dates has begun to replace the ancient practice of relying on the court docket. Beyond allowing for greater flexibility, this new method also turns the tables on lawyers who have customarily controlled the pace of cases. A related trend in the mid-1990s, introduced by Minnesota, is toward uniformity: the state's General Rules of Practice place all jurisdictions under the same uniform rules, aiming to save time in scheduling as well as ensuring that local attorneys have no advantage over out-of-state attorneys.

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