October 30, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
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Five-term Medina County clerk is leaving

MEDINA — When Kathy Fortney first started working at the Medina County Clerk of Courts office in December 1968, employees typed court documents on typewriters, and people had to come in to the courthouse to get copies of them.

Things are a bit different now.

Medina County Clerk of Courts Kathy Fortney listens as Judge James L. Kimbler reads a proclamation from the city of Medina at a luncheon in Kimbler’s courtroom Tuesday that commemorates Fortney’s retirement. Fortney has worked in various positions in the Clerk of Courts office since 1968. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY MARIA KACIK KULA)

Medina County Clerk of Courts Kathy Fortney listens as Judge James L. Kimbler reads a proclamation from the city of Medina at a luncheon in Kimbler’s courtroom Tuesday that commemorates Fortney’s retirement. Fortney has worked in various positions in the Clerk of Courts office since 1968. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY MARIA KACIK KULA)

Documents are entered into the computer and most are available online that day. Fortney, 63, who retires this week, said Tuesday that people have become used to the connectivity.

“One time when the Internet was down, we had never seen so many phone calls,” Fortney said. “It’s almost kind of funny. I asked them, ‘What did you do before the Internet?’ ”

Fortney started as an auto title employee under former Clerk of Courts Jean Waters just two weeks before the office moved from the basement of the old county courthouse to the first floor of the new one.

“I really did come in with the brick in the new courthouse,” she said.

She was among the first employees to work at the Brunswick and Wadsworth branch title offices when they opened in 1975 and 1976, respectively.

When Waters retired as clerk in 1991, Fortney was appointed by the local Republican Party to finish Waters’ term. Fortney was elected to the position in 1992, and has been re-elected ever since.

Fortney said at first there was a lot about the job that was new to her, even though she’d already been with the office for nearly a quarter century. Taking the job meant a load of new responsibilities, since the clerk of courts has its hand in everything from finances to legal issues to customer service.

“There was so much I didn’t know. But what you don’t know, you need to find out,” she said.

“I can be here for another 42 years, and I still won’t know it all,” she said.

One of the reasons for that is changing technology, Fortney said. The courts began keeping documents on computers in the early 1990s and began posting them online in 2008.
That was a big leap, Fortney said.

“We just have to be careful how we treat (technology). Everybody wants to know everything about everybody, but you don’t want to have everybody know everything about yourself,” she said.

The clerks don’t put any information from domestic relations court and also are careful not to upload personal information like medical records.

“Just because the Internet is there, we don’t have to put everything out there. … It’s a helpful tool, but you want to be sensitive to that tool,” she said.

She said the next step in technology likely will be to have everyone, including lawyers and judges, file documents directly online. However, Fortney cautioned that it should be thought out carefully.

“Those are legal documents. Those are people’s lives. It’s not just something you just flip a switch and do,” she said.

Fortney said looking at the court records as part of people’s lives is what’s guided her in her job.

“To have a career like this has been truly wonderful. It’s been my life,” she said. “I never want to disappoint the people of my county and I don’t think I did.”

Contact Maria Kacik Kula at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@medina-gazette.com.