The race for Mecklenburg clerk of court, the courthouse’s quintessential inside job, has drawn two “insiders” hoping to fill it.
Both Republican Martha Efird and Democrat Elisa Chinn Gary are making their first run for public office. But both have been highly public courthouse figures – Efird as a lawyer and former high-ranking assistant clerk; Gary as a social worker, lawyer and the longtime administrator of the county’s Family Court.
Now, each wants to take over a staff of more than 200, which handles some 300,000 filings each year and stores all criminal and civil court files. The job pays about $110,000 annually.
Both candidates have attracted an impressive list of endorsements, some crossing party lines.
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Efird, 54, is the hand-picked successor of retiring clerk Martha Curran, who has run the office for a quarter-century. Efird joined Curran’s staff in 2011, after having run a law practice for 16 years. She left the clerk’s office last year to join a Charlotte law firm. Curran recruited her to run as her replacement.
Gary, 45, has been the day-to-day administrator of Family Court since September 2001. Previously, the graduate of the UNC schools of law and social work has served as a juvenile legal defender and an attorney advocate for the state’s guardian ad litem program. Since 2010, she has served as adjunct professor at the Charlotte School of Law.
Both say their experience and overall knowledge of the duties and people of the courthouse have prepared them to run the essential, behind-the-scenes operations of the clerk’s office.
Gary, who grew up in Winston-Salem, calls herself “a critical lover of the justice system,” – celebrating what the courts do well, yet acknowledging “where our system falls short in meeting the needs of its constituents.”
Pushing for change, she says, “requires institutional knowledge, proven leadership, integrity and diplomacy.”
As a court administrator, Gary says, she has already been trained to work collaboratively with judges, lawyers and other court officials. She also claims experience in technology management and in building and training a staff.
She says her background gives her a better-informed perspective on meeting the public’s needs.
“As a social worker, I have observed how inefficiencies in a large governmental system can result in harm to those it seeks to serve,” Gary says. As a court administrator, “I have crafted the skills to lead our courts forward into the 21st century.”
Efird, however, is the only candidate with experience inside the clerk’s office. That, she says, sets her apart.
“The duties and functions of the clerk’s office are a job. Having worked in the clerk’s office as an attorney, I have done the job,” Efird says.
As Curran’s assistant, Efird presided over a variety of hearings, including foreclosures, guardianships and estates.
As a sole practitioner, the Campbell University law school grad handled civil and criminal cases and served as a guardian ad litem in the clerk’s office in hearings involving adult competency. In 2013, she joined the litigation team at Moore & Van Allen, focusing on state courts, procedures and rules.
If elected, Efird says, she has the background and connections to effectively operate the office with little transition. She says she will pull from all corners of the courthouse to draft goals on new technology and other improvements to make the office more responsive and efficient.
“I am passionate about the public service our clerk’s office provides to the bar and the citizens of this county,” she says.