Keeping the clerk's office running smoothly Shipley makes repairs, manages the court

September 05, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

His name is at the top of the office letterhead and his signature graces tens of thousands of documents that touch hundreds of lives, but all that means little when the copier breaks down.

"We call him Mr. Fix-it-Fox," said one of the 27 deputy clerks who work for Carroll Circuit Court Clerk Larry W. Shipley. "A telephone, a computer or the copier are a cinch for him."

It's not uncommon to see Mr. Shipley -- who 25 years ago last week began his career in the circuit court taking notes for Carroll's sole judge -- tooling around 55 N. Court St. with a screwdriver or pair of pliers in one hand and an appliance manual in the other.

Nor is it unusual to see the 48-year-old Westminster man out of his cramped basement office, checking a court file, adjusting a land record or writing a receipt for someone.

"I enjoy my work," Mr. Shipley said. "These people do a lot to serve the public, and it's my job to see that we're always maintaining the same service to the public that we've always had."

In 1968, Mr. Shipley quit working for the Bendix Corp., which was providing materials for the Apollo space program.

"I saw the advertisement for the job, and they hired me," he said of the deputy clerk position that paid $6,000 a year.

In 1975, he was appointed chief deputy to long-time Carroll Circuit Court Clerk Charles Conaway. When Mr. Conaway announced his retirement in 1978, Mr. Shipley ran for Mr. Conaway's job.

The Republican has won every election since then, including two against Diane O'Leary, a former deputy clerk. She was fired after Shipley defeated her in 1986. He defeated Mrs. O'Leary again in the 1990 election by 4,000 votes.

Mr. Shipley said he intends to run at least two more times.

"I like this job too much," he said.

As clerk of court, Mr. Shipley is paid $52,300 a year to oversee 27 employees who process more than 400 new criminal and civil court cases a month and manage a collection of more than 40,000 court files and 2,000 land records.

He has about $1 million a year to spend on salaries and office expenses, although the court takes in revenue -- court costs, filing fees and the like -- of nearly $8 million a year.

dTC "It's frustrating at times, especially in the recent years of budget cutbacks," Mr. Shipley said. Half of his employees haven't seen a raise in four years, and the other half got their first raises since 1989 in July.

The budgetary constraint hasn't gone unnoticed by Mr. Shipley's employees, who grumbled privately earlier this year when thousands of dollars were spent on new office furniture and computers instead of raises.

Not that Mr. Shipley hasn't gone to bat for his workers. In a June letter to the deputy state court administrator, he said that his employees deserved raises.

"What is . . . fascinating is the fact that these employees remain dedicated to their jobs and continue to provide the level of service expected of them," he wrote. "I feel the fiscal experts in this state better wake up and recognize the most important commodity that they have."

Mr. Shipley is a 1963 Westminster High School graduate who spent the ensuing four years in the Air Force. He is described by his employees as quiet, easy-going and relaxed.

"I know what my job is, and I know how to do it," said Doris Haines, the supervisor of civil court records. "And he lets me do it."

Peggy Galloway, a deputy clerk in the criminal section, has worked for Mr. Shipley for 15 years.

"He is extremely understanding, even when you have problems," she said. "I find I can talk to him."

Her supervisor, Joyce Harrington -- who has been with the clerk's office for 16 years -- says "you couldn't ask for anybody better" when it comes to listening to others.

While some employees said they might want to see Mr. Shipley be a little bit more by-the-book strict, an assistant public defender who works in the courts building finds his style pleasing.

"He doesn't create a lot of unnecessary rules," said Brian Green, who credits Mr. Shipley with giving lawyers access to the building and files after hours.

Mr. Shipley, an avid tennis player and theater-goer, lives in Westminster with two of his three children.

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