Gunning for Garrett: Two challengers vie for 8-year, $112K job

City School Board member and assistant public defender Llezelle Dugger will run for Charlottesville Circuit Court clerk, the second Democrat to challenge incumbent Paul Garrett, who's held the clerk job for 30 years.

"About three years ago, I started to seriously think about it," says Dugger. "I talked to Mr. Garrett and asked if he planned to retire. He said no."

Seeking his fourth eight-year term, the 65-year-old Garrett has been contested before, but Dugger may be the first challenger to talk candidly about alleged problems with his office. As a defense attorney, Dugger says she's grown frustrated by allegedly slow paperwork-processing.

"We're still waiting for final sentencing orders from 2010 and some from 2009," says Dugger, noting that it's not just a matter of convenience. For criminals facing sentences over a year in length, those orders are necessary to move from the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail to state prisons.

"What is the cost to us as a city to house folks?" asks Dugger.

In 2007, Garrett came under fire when a woman was kept in prison for a month because the paperwork that would have freed her was misplaced. That incident was followed by an emergency hearing for a man who spent a couple of extra days in jail because of a clerical error.

Public Defender Jim Hingeley has made no secret of his desire to oust Garrett, and he thinks the Democratic Party's upcoming "firehouse primary" may serve as a key factor to wrest the Democratic nomination– which is almost always the harbinger of the general election– away from Garrett.

"In the past, it's been a caucus," says Hingeley. "You had to stay for the whole meeting and have to cast the vote in public. Everyone had to be in a room with a locked door. It took hours."

With the firehouse primary, Dems have all day to come by and quickly vote in private, just as in a general election.

Dugger believes her legal background and her passion for organization combine for a valuable skill set, and she says that customer service and online records access will be key areas for improvement. And her boss Hingeley says it would be a great convenience to access court records online.

"A very, very small number of circuit courts don't have their records online," says Hingeley. "Albemarle does. Is there any reason we can't? Paul Garrett is the reason."

Asked for comments, Garrett declines to discuss his opponents or the firehouse primary, but he does offer a reason why Charlottesville Circuit Court records haven't gotten online.

"There are legal issues about confidentiality and privacy," says Garrett, mentioning juvenile court records, which the law usually requires to remain confidential. "That's a legal problem for which I am liable."

"Anything that happens in open court is public record," Dugger counters, adding that the number of juvenile cases that come to Circuit Court are limited, and that there are other documents, such as pre-sentencing reports, which are sealed and not put online.

Also not online are Charlottesville's real estate records. Garrett says his office is working to put 40 years of records online that would be available to a subscriber base. In 2007, according to the Daily Progress, Garrett told the state that the records already were online, when they were not. Albemarle put its land records online in 2008.

Pam Melampy, a deputy clerk in Albemarle Circuit Court, was the first Democrat to challenge Garrett. The sister of county clerk Debbie Shipp, Melampy says her 22 years of clerking experience–- 17 in Albemarle and six in Charlottesville General District Court–- are more important skills than being an attorney. And while Melampy hasn't been active in the city Democratic Party until recently, she's confident she can get out the vote.

The August 20 firehouse primary at Jackson Burley Middle School will be only the second time city Dems have used that method. The first time, in 2009, saw City Councilor Julian Taliaferro ousted in his bid for renomination. This year's will be the first firehouse primary for the clerk of court, a constitutional office. Candidates for three open seats on City Council also will be picked.

"The City Council race is throwing a wild card into the constitutional office race," says city Democratic co-chair Tom Vandever. While calling Garrett a "strong candidate who's generated two opponents," Vandever notes, "No incumbent has a guaranteed seat for life."



Mr Garett is the best and unbeatable. None better end of this story. Except for the criminal defenders he is liked and respected.

Unbelievably stupid to use that expression in the headline. Don't you people read the real news?

30 years is long enough for anyone to hold public office.

anyone who thinks Paul Garrett is "the best" and "none better" doesn't know him too well (as evidenced by incorrect name spelling?). Those who don't respect him include anyone who must deal with him in his official capacity, and those who don't like him include all who dislike people who lie about having properly used state funds. Others may like and respect him just fine. He is, after all, a perfectly nice person.

I personally know and like two of the three candidates. It's gonna be a hard decision while attending the firehouse primary and casting a vote.

I will say this though.... I did not realize Paul is 65 years old now. Time slows down for none of us I suppose. I question why he would not take his retirement and run with it. I've watched too many people devote their entire lives to the two offices within Charlottesville Circuit Court building, only to die before enjoying the retirement they have worked so long for. Examples right off the top of my head would be Raymond Pace, John Nightengale, Carlton Baird, and Judge Herbert Pickford.

I don't know any of these people (candidates) nor do I live in Charlottesville. However, I can't help but wonder how someone could use the liability excuse when it appears the vast majority of jurisdictions DO have websites (according to the article - I didn't do any research). It would appear they found a way to handle the liability issue. Maybe someone could enlighten me as to why Charlottesville would have a bigger liability problem than anywhere else?

My fear is that the challengers may split the anti-Garrett vote and he'll get nominated again. Then our only hope, and a slim one, is that a Republican or an Independent can defeat him in November.

In late 2009, Paul Garrett sent some $50,000 of funds to the Virginia Department of Unclaimed Property. This money represented dozens of monetary bonds which had been posted by plaintiffs in civil and criminal cases at Charlottesville Circuit Court. He made no effort to return this money to the individuals who posted bonds, though they did receive notice that their money had been transferred. He made no attempt to designate which funds belonged to which individuals, rather he sent one anonymous lump sum and only included file numbers for cases that contributed to it. Thus it was impossible for any individual to whom a part of this money belonged to search the Department of Unclaimed Property's database for their money. Information regarding who that money belongs to is only available in one place on earth, Garrett's office, because none of his records are online (I think he likes it that way). Because he was too lazy to designate which bonds belonged to which individuals, the Department of Treasury has to send someone to Charlottesville to find out. Eventually. Funds that should have been available for return to their rightful owners within weeks or a few months have been frozen for a year and a half now with no end in sight.
Paul Garrett's incompetence is only matched by his utter contempt for the people who rely on the 'services' his office provides, and expect him to provide them competently.

Since when is the clerk of court a political position? Do the nominees have to be part of an ideological party? Really? Charlottesville is too obsessed with labeling employees as Democrat or Republican. Those who want the job should be put on a ballot and then the residents can vote. Enough with political ideology!! Same goes with the Commonwealth's Attorney position and Sheriff's position. Why should the Sheriff run as a Democrat or Republican? The city is ridiculous!!

bradshaw, since the Democrats want their candidates in all elected positions, it's therefore becomes a political issue. There's just no other way to explain it. A Republican or Independent can run, but it means the Democrats will be out in full force to make sure a Republican doesn't win hopefully.

Paul Garrett is incompetent, has a lazy work ethic and has become way to comfortable in his $112,000.00 position. I am a county employee whose daily job responsibilities depend upon him doing what is LEGALLY required of him by Virginia Law 19.2-310. However, literally 69% of the time he REFUSES to do it and it has a real financial impact on the city of Charlottesville. He has been told by me personally about this issue yet he has made NO clear attempt to resolve it. This has been going on for YEARS! In regards to him refusing to put court information online, this is a system designed and implemented by the SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA. I think they have already taken care of the liability issue BEFORE they asked every court in the state to do this. Soooo, Mr Garrett is saying he knows better than the Supreme Court of Virginia and almost EVERY other court in the state! LAZY! Who does this affect, not Mr. Garrett who yet again REFUSES to take his constituents into account, YOU the citizens of Charlottesville who have to physically drive to the courts and thumb through countless files to access YOUR information. In addition, his laziness or poor work ethic over the years has costs the tax payers of Charottesville thousands of dollars. Please see the APA report below from 2007-2008 and please READ his response. I am not a citizen of Charlottesville only someone who is professionally frustrated by his utter lack of concern for his duties as YOUR elected official. YOU pay him $112,000.00 a year to do what, waste your money, make your more complicated??
All of that said, I have heard he is a really nice man. I am not attacking his persoanlly only his work ethics and disregard for his elected position! Also I am saying all of theis now only AFTER I persoanlly and professionally informed him of my concerns only for NOTHINHG to happen. I am not advocating for any one to take his postiton. I am only ask that the person think of their constituents when deciding to do whith THEIR money and THEIR needs and not themselves!!! ANYONE>>>

I don't know Garrett except for what I read. I understand that he's 65 and has been doing this job for 24 years.

I'm curious. What did he do before he became clerk? What else does he do in or "for" our community?

Actually, Jack, he's been not doing his job for 30 years now. I think he fancies himself a mid-east dictator. If you think Paul Garrett at 65 is a disaster for City Circuit Court, wait til you have to deal with 73 year old Paul Garrett.

I've dealt with Mr. Garrett in an official capacity a few times. Of the folks I have dealt with at the City, he is one of the slowest and least organized individuals with which I have dealt. No doubt he's a good enough person, but he isn't exactly a go-getter. That said, I am a bit jealous of him. I really wish that I could slough off my job responsibilities under the simple guise of refusing to accept personal responsibility. That's a pretty sweet perk if you think about it and there is $0,000.00 tax liability for it!

I guess what I want to hear is something that gives personal dimension to this guy.

Is he a bon vivant frequently seen at Fridays After Five grooving to bands? Does he like Spudnuts? Is he in the Red Land club? Did he grow up in this area? Where did he go to school? Where did his kids go?

And so on.

Manyu localities have put people's social security numbers online with property records: So far, mine is not out there because they are not online yet.
Dugger, if elected, will turn that office into being Hingesley's personal secretary.

112k a year, of tax payer money. I haven't met a person yet worth 100k a year who is paid by tax payers money.

112k a year, of tax payer money. I haven't met a person yet worth 100k a year who is paid by tax payers money.

@ bradshaw. It's not just "the city" because we do the same thing with these elections too...commonwealth attorney and sheriff this year.

Isn't it time for Hingesley to retire?