MORGANTOWN — Some people are afraid of commitment.
Monongalia County Circuit Clerk Jean Friend is not one of them.
Friend has been Mon County’s circuit clerk since 1960, making her the longest-serving clerk in the state, she said. Circuit clerk is an elected position with a six-year term. Friend said she last ran in 2016, so she won’t be required to run again until 2022.
“This is the office where everything that is intended to be heard by a judge or a jury is filed,” Friend said of her duties as circuit clerk. “Everything begins here.”
Monongalia County Circuit Judge Phillip Gaujot said the office is well organized, attentive to its duties and obligations. He said he believes that comes from the top.
“The fact that she’s been the clerk for so many years is an indication she must be doing something right because the public continues to put her in that position,” he said.
She doesn’t have to do the job alone though. Friend said she has six deputy clerks, each trained to go to court. While in a courtroom clerks have many duties, including keeping track of exhibits at trial and swearing in witnesses.
“They have to be there,” she said. “There always has to be a clerk in open court.”
Before becoming the circuit clerk Friend worked as a secretary for several different attorneys. She said she did a little bit of everything. Then on April 1, 1957, she started working in the clerk’s office. The attorney she was working for at the time was taking winter vacations to Arizona and getting ready to retire and Friend said she knew she’d need to find a new job eventually.
It may seem strange that Friend, 89, can remember the exact date she started her job, but she said she’s always had a good memory. She said she used to be able to remember the numbers on court filings.
After three-and-a-half years of working as a deputy clerk, the circuit clerk retired, so Friend ran and won, she said.
Friend said she loves every aspect about the job. She loves legal work because you can see results, she said.
“It’s just very interesting to me,” she said.
Over the years things have changed in Monongalia County. Friend said there was only a single circuit court judge when she first started, Don Eddy. The county now has three judges.
She said judges used to appoint people to commissioner positions such as a divorce commissioner, who would hear those specific kinds of cases to help ease the case load.
The types of crimes Mon County residents commit have changed, too. Assault was the most popular crime when she started, she said. Drugs weren’t the pervasive factor they are now, but were much rarer and a bigger deal. Just 15 grams of marijuana could get someone sent to prison and the opioid epidemic, which Friend said concerns her very much, was non-existent.
There are also more crimes. The grand jury used to return 35-40 indictments a term, now it’s “nothing” to have over 100, Friend said. The May 2018 grand jury returned 112 indictments.
The biggest change of all though is the innovation of the computer system, Friend said. In 1960 Mon County got its first computer and everything changed. Around the same time West Virginia also switched from old English law to the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Deputy Clerk Susan Trowbridge has worked with Friend for 40 years. She described Friend as a great boss who is kind and an excellent cook.
“She keeps us happy by feeding us,” she said.