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Retired clerk hopes to spend more time on prison ministry

FREDERICK — For Carrie Dillard, managing the daily affairs of the Maryland District Court here, and its 22 employees, has been a matter of leading by example.

“I would not ask anything of the clerks I wouldn’t help them with or do myself,” she said.

Her close relationship with her co-workers is part of the reason why Dillard, 47, who recently retired as county clerk after 22 years working for the Frederick County court system, said her last days on the job were bittersweet.

“I just couldn’t say enough about them,” Dillard said of her co-workers.

A native of Mountain Iron, Minn., Dillard began her career at age 18, working for the unemployment office in Frederick County.

About three years later, she took a job as a courtroom clerk for the District Court in Montgomery County, where she stayed for about five years before moving to the Frederick County location.

She worked her way up to supervisor of the civil cases department and has been the District Court’s county clerk for more than 10 years.

When she started, about 20 employees handled roughly 30,000 cases a year, Dillard said. Last year, 22 employees worked on about 52,000 cases. The largest increase likely comes from traffic citations, she said.

Other significant changes in her job include the shift to the computerized age, she said. In 1985, the court system began to computerize its files. Since January, state residents who receive a traffic citation can pay for it electronically and have to request a court date. Before, the court date was automatically assigned.

The shift has not really changed the work the court does, as files still must be maintained, though it has meant police officers do not have to spend as much time in court waiting for those who do not appear for their court date, Dillard said.

The Maryland District Court is also planning to begin the shift to a paperless operation over the next four to five years, she said. Hard copies of files will be maintained, but Dillard said the move will likely lead to more efficient operations.

One of the main challenges of the job, which places customer service as a priority, is making people who come to the court realize clerks aren’t attorneys and can’t offer legal advice, she said.

Fortunately, more options are open to low-income residents facing civil legal issues, including a program recently launched statewide by the Maryland District Court to provide free live online chat and phone-in legal services, she said.

Retirement will give Dillard a chance to carry on with one of her and her husband’s favorite pastimes — playing golf. They hope to play a round at Pebble Beach in California this spring.

Meanwhile, Dillard also plans to spend more time volunteering at Kairos Prison Ministry International, where her husband, Ronan, is developing a program to help prisoners connect to church groups and their communities after they are released.

Still, Dillard said the reality of retirement had not completely dawned on her.

“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like not to come here,” she said.

Dillard said she hopes that she has managed to set an example for her co-workers that hard work and perseverance pay off.

“And caring about what you do, doing it because you care about people,” she said.

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