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Court Clerk Sees It All--and Likes It That Way

Cherie Garofalo says she sees it all.

From small-claims cases and misdemeanor arraignments to felony and civil cases, Garofalo monitors the details of justice from her ringside seat. She is a court clerk for Orange County’s Municipal Court system who says one of the best aspects of her job is its variety.

“I’m a floater. I get to move every few weeks. I can be assigned to any court as needed,” said Garofalo, adding that variety isn’t the job’s only draw.

In May, 1992, the municipal courts incorporated an automated case processing system. Garofalo now spends most of her time developing procedures for automated minute taking, which gives her the opportunity to work with computers.

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“I like being able to be involved with the latest technology,” she said. “And with changes in legislation or changes in this environment, there are always new challenges. This position is always changing.”

Garofalo, 26, has worked in the municipal courts since October, 1987. That’s when she took an entry-level position in the traffic department. Like all county job candidates, Garofalo had to take a rigorous series of tests before being hired, including a 200-question written test of legal terms and laws, followed by an oral exam.

A native of Santa Cruz, Garofalo was a student at Golden West College in Huntington Beach when she took the court job to earn money for school expenses. She discovered that she could make a career of it.

“That’s how I decided to stay,” Garofalo said. “Through promotions, I’m now able to get involved with other things, like the computers. I really enjoy my job. This is something I do for me.”

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Garofalo left her job for two years after the birth of her second child--she has 6- and 4-year-old daughters, Jessica and Julia. After her return, Garofalo advanced from deputy clerk to supervisor of the traffic division. She assumed her current position as a court clerk last March.

Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Garofalo works to ensure that all players for a court proceeding are in place. She must make sure that the bailiff, court reporters, district attorney, judge and interpreters are on hand.

Organization is the key to doing the job well, said Garofalo, adding that she constantly has to juggle lawyers requests’ for copies of court dockets while fielding questions from the various judges with whom she works. Garofalo is also responsible for recording the minutes for the court docket and for preparing and maintaining the court calendar.

The job “requires a level of patience,” Garofalo said. “It gets very busy in the middle of a calendar call and you have to deal with it.”

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In the wake of the county’s bond crisis, administrative cuts in training and overtime pay have been made at the court in an effort to reduce layoffs. Garofalo said she is hopeful such measures will stave off serious threats to her job. Her alternate plan, though, would be to return to school to complete her degree.

“Everyone is working together,” Garofalo said. “We’re always looking for new ways to be more streamlined. Nobody wants to lose their job.”

OCCUPATION: Municipal Court Clerk

* What’s involved: Prepare official record of courtroom proceedings, maintain court dockets and exhibits offered in evidence. Also swear in witnesses and juries and perform other duties.

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* Qualifications: High school diploma and at least one year of experience as an assistant courtroom clerk for Orange County or equivalent experience in a municipal or superior court in California. Also need three or more years’ experience dealing with criminal and civil hearings and a thorough knowledge of terminology used in court proceedings. Must be able to work in a demanding environment, have strong organizational skills and an ability to handle people.

* Outlook: By 1998, the number of jobs is projected to increase 21.1% to 920.

* Salary range: $2,503 to $3,345 per month

* Pros: Flexible schedules and chance to learn about different facets of court system.

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* Cons: Working late until judge leaves the bench; often working in criminal courts, which can be depressing.

* Advancement: Clerks can move into management positions.

* Quote: “It’s great to get up in the morning and want to meet the challenges of the day."--Cherie Garafalo

Researched by VALERIE WILLIAMS-SANCHEZ / Los Angeles Times

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