“Clerk” is a commonplace term used to describe a variety of vocations, referring to persons who sell goods, wait on customers or engage in any type of clerical work, such as bookkeeping, copying and even running a cash register in a checkout line. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “clerk” as the “officer of court who files pleadings, motions, judgments, etc., issues processes and keeps records of court proceedings,” thus more aptly describing the functions of the 159 elected clerks of superior court in this state.
As discussed in previous articles, the clerk is an elected county constitutional officer and is the chief administrator, accountant, information officer, information-technology officer and human-resources officer for the clerk’s office in which he or she serves and, in many counties, also is the sole court administrator. In Georgia, clerks of superior court are not merely clerks, and their duties are not restricted to court clerical functions.
By law, the clerk’s duties are bifurcated, with the clerk also serving as the “registrar of deeds” (also called “the registrar” or “recorder” of deeds) — a title given to the officer “whose duty is to record deeds, mortgages and other instruments affecting realty in the official books provided and kept for that purpose.”
In a previous article, I discussed the necessity of having written land records, the most-important reason being protection of individuals’ ownership and security rights. To protect and preserve such rights, the clerk of superior court is legally required to file and permanently archive all land and personal-property records in a manner that facilitates public access. In other words, anyone can view and copy all deeds, liens, plats and Uniform Commercial Code instruments recorded in the clerk’s office. Doing so provides ongoing notice to the world as to who owns specific parcels or tracts of land or other property.
Title 44 of the Official Code of Georgia provides rigid procedures that the clerk must follow to ensure real-estate and personal-property records — including instruments securing interests in property as the result of a loan made upon such property — are properly and legally filed, preserved and protected in perpetuity. Additionally, legislators empowered the Georgia Superior Court Clerks’ Cooperative Authority in 1996 to promulgate rules and regulations necessary to ensure that property records, upon being filed, are uniformly indexed throughout the state.
In 2002, I wrote House Bill 1582, which was enacted by the Georgia General Assembly, requiring automation of real-estate records in every clerk of superior court’s office in the state. It was the first time in state history that there was a mandatory system required for processing instruments filed in clerk’s offices.
Superior-court clerks are required by law to transmit all real-estate and personal-property records and images thereof to the authority every day. After verifying their quality and accuracy, the authority publishes each record on its statewide automated information system, enabling anyone in the world to access and copy the index data and image of the instrument.
The authority permanently archives for free all digital land and personal-property records provided to it by clerks of superior court, thus safeguarding against loss of automated data in the event that there is a locally catastrophic event.
Additionally, the authority has invested millions of dollars in re-creation of land records of the state since 2002, enabling clerks of superior court working in partnership with vendors certified by the authority to image and re-index deeds dating back to 1991. Re-created land records reside on clerks’ office servers and on the authority’s servers, and they are permanently archived on the authority’s multiple offsite archiving systems, thus further protecting such records from loss.
The authority remits all revenues derived from copies made on its statewide real-estate information system back to clerks of superior court for the benefit of their offices and local taxpayers. It provides equipment, communications, support and technical assistance to clerks of superior court to enable them to perform their functions as registrar of deeds. The authority has provided since 1994, when it was created, more than $1 million for the benefit of the Office of the Clerk of Courts of Liberty County and other local court officials and agencies.
Anyone may access Liberty County real-estate and personal-property records in the real-estate department of the clerk’s office in the Liberty County Justice Center (at 201 S. Main St., Suite 1200, in Hinesville) between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Online, the records may be accessed at any time on the authority’s website at www.gsccca.org. By law, the fee for copying records is 50 cents per page if no assistance is required, and $1 per page if assistance is required. Deputy clerks of the real-estate division are regularly available to assist persons requiring assistance with accessing or retrieving specific land records.
Liberty County land records from 1789 through 1991 have been in the process of being digitally re-created for the past eight years. The laborious project is made possible through grant funds from various sources. Once completed, all land records for the county will reside on the authority’s website and will be permanently archived for safekeeping, thus further protecting these invaluable records from theft and other potential types of loss. Currently, digital deed images and index data may be accessed in the clerk’s office back to 1976.
I soon will begin accepting electronically filed deeds, liens and plats, enabling persons to file such instruments from their computers anywhere in the world. I began accepting e-filed Uniform Commercial Code filings in 2010.