2007-06-06 / Front Page

Republicans to determine court clerk candidate

By Greg Pearson

Chesterfield County Circuit Court Clerk Judy Worthington hasn't had opposition for her position since she first ran 16 years ago, but that's changed this year. Her opponent in the Republican primary - Dennis Collins - is a prosecutor from the Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. Collins' boss, Commonwealth's Attorney Bill Davenport, a Republican, is supporting Collins for the party nomination.

Even so, Worthington, a fixture in the Chesterfield Republican Committee, has garnered most of the Republican endorsements: Congressman Eric Cantor, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Attorney General Bob McDonnell, two Chesterfield state senators, four Chesterfield delegates and a very long list of attorneys.

"She's the incumbent who gets the endorsements that goes with being a Republican office holder," replied Collins. "Most of the people who have endorsed her don't have to work with her."

"She hasn't been working with those in the criminal justice system to get the job done," continued Collins. "There's a lack of cooperation with the Commonwealth Attorney's Office, the Sheriff's Office and law enforcement in general. Someone needed to step up and fix the broken cog in the wheel."

"Our office has worked hard at customer service with the agencies we serve and the public," said Worthington. She oversees a staff of 45 employees who maintain court records, register deeds, keep lending records including equity lines, track marriages and divorces, and qualify those who can perform marriages. Her employees keep probate records, and when necessary, she appoints an administrator to handle estates when there is no will.

"It's clear that I'm going to prevail," Worthington said. "We've saved the taxpayers millions of dollars by digitizing our records all the way back to 1749."

After college, Worthington's career track went from probation officer to the Virginia Department of Corrections to court administration at the Virginia Supreme Court before being elected to clerk.

Her opponent, Collins, is a University of Richmond graduate where he also earned his law degree. Before law school, he was a juvenile probation officer. He joined the Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney's Office in 1988, rising to senior deputy commonwealth's attorney.

Collins wants more court records online while "protecting privacy rights," which Worthington opposes. Most circuit courts have records online. "No one wants divorce records online," she said, "or even their traffic records. You can't segregate the records - it's all or none."

Collins has pointed to $389,000 paid by Virginia taxpayers when Worthington's office was sued by Chesterfield Circuit Court Judge T. J. Hauler, who alleged she defamed him in a letter pertaining to his reappointment by the General Assembly. The suit was for $5.35 million, but settled with Hauler receiving $90,000 and the remainder going for her attorney's fees.

"Personal vendettas…are costly and wrong," commented Collins.

"That was 5-6 years ago," said Worthington. "Everybody's moved on. That's contributing to a nasty campaign, and people are tired of being negative."

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