A special election next month for Prince William clerk of circuit court pits a longtime state lawmaker against a former candidate for the job.
The April 18 contest was scheduled after the February death of Michèle B. McQuigg (R), who was in her second term as clerk. Republican Jackson H. Miller, the majority whip in the Virginia House of Delegates, faces Democrat Jacqueline C. Smith, a Dumfries lawyer who lost to McQuigg in 2015 by fewer than 3,000 votes.
The winner will complete the remainder of McQuigg’s eight-year term, which lasts until the end of 2023.
Both candidates said last week that, if elected, they would improve customer service in the clerk’s office, which serves Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.
McQuigg said during the 2015 race that her operation did a laudable job of handling the more than 800 responsibilities of the clerk’s office, which include recording deeds and issuing marriage licenses, as well as creating and maintaining all court files and records.
“People are constantly telling me what good customer service they are getting,” she told local news website InsideNoVa at the time.
But Miller and Smith said they want to improve the way the clerk’s office handles telephone calls. McQuigg put too much emphasis on using email and voice mail, the candidates said, with too few constituents reaching a live person when they made phone calls.
“People want to get a voice — at least, a lot of people,” said Miller, 49, who lives in Manassas.
The candidates also said a clerk’s office under their control would use technology more. Miller said he wanted to see more digitization of aging paper records, and Smith said there’s a major disconnect among the computer systems at the Prince William courthouse.
Sometimes the lack of connectivity means judges can’t receive legal filings in a timely manner, she said.
“I’ve gotten to oral arguments where the judge has nothing,” the 34-year-old New Hampshire native said.
Smith and Miller don’t agree on other court clerk matters.
Smith, who practices law with her husband, said the office has been too political over the past few years, citing McQuigg’s defense of Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages, which was struck down after the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that such unions must be allowed nationwide.
Smith also said the clerk’s position shouldn’t be a place where career politicians come to make a lot of money before retiring. McQuigg, who served as a Prince William County supervisor and state delegate before becoming clerk, made $162,740 last year, according to county government records.
And visitors to the clerk’s office should be able to complete their business there without knowing whether the boss is a Republican or Democrat, Smith said.
“Politics should not come into it at all,” she said.
Miller, though, touts his legislative experience as a reason he would be a worthy choice for election. He is the only member of the Prince William-area delegation to the state’s General Assembly who is on the judicial-selection panel, for example, and he said he has introduced bills on behalf of the state court clerks’ association.
He also disputed the notion that he wants a new job for the salary, saying he can earn more in his real estate business than he could as clerk. Miller, who has been a delegate since 2006, said he wants the position so he can return to the local service he previously provided as a member of the Manassas City Council and as a police officer in Prince William and Arlington.
Miller said his real estate knowledge would be a boost to working with land records in the clerk’s office, too. And he said his experience running a business with about 25 real estate agents gives him a leg up on leading the clerk’s office, which employs about 50 workers, he said.
“Leadership is essential to making sure you have a smooth-running operation,” said the lawmaker, who is married and has two sons.