Nebraska: hearing next week on plan to eliminate office of Clerk of the District Court, make county employees state; Delaware & California made similar moves in last several decades

Nebraska, like many states, provides for the election of the clerk of their general jurisdiction court or their appointment from outside the judiciary (e.g. county boards). Other states make the Clerk of Court a court employee and/or have merged the office into the court’s trial court administrator. Next week, Nebraska’s Senate Judiciary committee will debate whether to move in this direction.

Under LB 544 the office of Clerk of the District Court would be phased out in counties where the position is appointive or where some other county official is serving ex officio as clerk and the responsibilities transferred to existing clerk magistrates.

Where the position is elected (as appears to be most if not all counties), the county board could vote to end the position, however no incumbent would be forced out of office. Serving elected clerks would remain in office and continue to be re-elected until a vacancy occurs. This exact same situation occurred in Delaware when the state’s constitution was amended in the 1980s to make prothonotaries appointed by the Superior Court rather than elected and incumbents allowed to remain and run for re-election.

As for how the office would function, LB 544 provides property remains owned by the county, but books, files and records transfer to the state court administrator. Moreover, employees become state employees, but with the assurance “No transferred county employee shall incur a loss of income or benefits as a result of becoming a state employee.” This was similar to the law passed when California merged its Municipal Courts into Superior and all court employees became state employees (Cal Gov Code ยง 70217).

The hearing on LB 544 has been set for February 1 in the Senate Judiciary Committee.