By Jeff Louderback
Innovative technology and first-of-its-kind community outreach have marked the initial months of Mike Foley’s tenure as Montgomery County Clerk of Courts.
When the U.S. Army veteran and longtime business owner knocked on doors and met residents across the county during his campaign, the first question he often heard was, “What exactly is the Clerk of Courts’ role?”
To inform Montgomery County citizens of the services that the Clerk of Courts provides, and to offer a more welcoming customer service experience, Foley outlined a plan to upgrade technology, improve community relations and implement hands-on leadership in the community. Since taking office in January, he has introduced a Clerk of Courts Help Center and deployed staff members into the community to inform residents about outreach programs and services. He is also piloting a text message notification program to remind recipients of their court dates
“Since many people are not familiar with the services our office provides, I made it a priority from my first day to let residents know what’s available to them,” said Foley. “We have a duty in this office to reach residents where they are. We’re bringing the courthouse to the community, and we’re making sure that our office is uniquely accessible.”
In Montgomery County, the Clerk of Courts is the official record-keeper and agent for the court system. The organization serves the Common Pleas Court; Domestic Relations Court; and the Second District Court of Appeals as well as the Auto Title Division. The Municipal Court Division serves as the municipal court for various cities, townships and villages throughout the county. The Municipal Court Division maintains two courthouses, one in New Lebanon (Western Division) and one in Huber Heights (Eastern Division).
The Clerk of Courts office performs tasks that range from receiving, indexing, certifying and preserving legal documents filed with the courts; serving court papers and furnishing case schedules and notices of hearings to issuing summonses, subpoenas and warrants; managing deposits of money for court-related costs and issuing auto and other vehicle titles and passports.
Determined to assist residents navigate a complex court system that can be intimidating, Foley developed the Help Center, which he says is typically only seen in larger regions. Foley hired two Help Center staff members, and he is developing a coalition of community partners to make the Help Center a beneficial forum for Montgomery County residents who need information, a network of resources and answers to their questions.
“The Help Center is a tremendous undertaking, and it’s something that’s never been done in Dayton or Montgomery County, but it will make a significant difference for residents,” said Foley, who earned a business degree from Ohio State University and worked as a small business owner along with his 12-year tenure as Deputy Registrar of the Huber Heights Bureau of Motor Vehicles before starting as Clerk of Courts in January. “This illustrates our commitment to attentive customer service and giving people more guidance.”
More than 7,000 people missed their hearings last year in Montgomery County-operated courts. This resulted in wasted time and money, Foley believes, prompting the development of the text message notification program that is still evolving. The text message notification will alert citizens of their court dates and times. Other counties have seen these programs result in fewer arrest warrants issued for failure to appear in court.
“An arrest warrant is a permanent record and can have a profoundly negative effect on someone for the long term,” Foley said. “Something as simple as a text message can help someone avoid arrest and detention merely by reminding them that they are due in court, and it saves taxpayers’ money.”
Community outreach in the new Clerk of Courts office extends beyond the launch of the Help Center. Foley and his staff have become more visible in the county’s cities, villages and townships by providing insight about services like the driver’s license reinstatement program and the expungement program related to individuals’ criminal records.
Transportation and criminal records are serious barriers to employment in Montgomery County communities, Foley explained. Resolving those type of issues helps families and neighborhoods, and it also bolsters economic development by getting more people back to work.
“Change is meaningful when it has a positive impact on residents in every part of Montgomery County, and that is the inspiration behind all of these new programs, and it will be the motivation for new programs that are introduced in the future,” Foley said. “It is our intention to make sure as many citizens as possible know what the Clerk of Courts office does, and to ensure that we are accessible and helpful.”