Patricia Presley looks back with fondness on her days as a young file clerk as she learned the ropes from then-Oklahoma County Court Clerk Dan Gray.
It was Gray who mentored Presley and stoked her passion for public service.
Those lessons were not lost on the impressionable 22-year-old, who would one day return to run the state's biggest and busiest court clerk's office.
“I aspired to be as good a public servant as Dan Gray was,” Presley said recently. “He would work the counter. He was ‘Steady as she goes.' Everybody admired him and respected him.”
Presley, 61, of Oklahoma City, is retiring Monday after 16 years as court clerk of Oklahoma County.
Deputy Court Clerk Tim Rhodes, Presley's second-in-charge, will be sworn in Wednesday as the county's seventh court clerk since 1915.
Rhodes, 55, has known Presley since her days as a financial analyst at the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City, where she spent 10 years before running for public office.
He described his outgoing boss as parts friend, mentor, cheerleader and disciplinarian. Presley, he said, mixed traditional values with progressive ideas to stay one step ahead of reductions in budgets and staff.
“She's not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty and do the work,” Rhodes said this week. “The things that I've learned from Patricia I didn't read in any of those law books.”
The court clerk's primary responsibility is maintaining and recording all court documents filed in Oklahoma County — 120,000 new cases annually — and collecting as much as $70 million a year in court costs, fees and fines.
An estimated 1,500 people a day visit the courthouse, some to serve as jurors, others to apply for marriage licenses and still others to appear for civil and criminal hearings.
Not everyone is glad to be there.
“It's not like a shoe store or any kind of a retail department store where people can pick and choose where they take their business,” Presley said. “The people that come in through those doors are coming in because they have to conduct their business here.
“That's why it's so very important that they be treated like customers regardless of why they're here.”
Presley has a staff of 120, down 40 from when she took office in January 1997. Budgets to run the court and pay employees fell by a combined 25 percent since then, she said.
“We're still able to give good service,” she said. “If you had asked me 16 years ago if we could have done that, I would have said no.”
Personnel director Teresa Davis said Presley has been a good mentor to those who have worked under her. Presley's smile and upbeat personality will be missed, she said.
“We kind of refer to her as the office cheerleader,” Davis said.
Presley made customer service a top priority and oversaw advancements in technology that improved efficiency and reduced costs.
Shortly after taking office in 1997, Presley spent $4,700 on a computer program to reduce the amount of time it took to register jurors by scanning a bar code attached to a summons. That investment saved the county approximately $3 million, she said.
During her tenure, Oklahoma County was the first county to image documents for judges, eliminating the need to carry files to the courthouse. At her request, Oklahoma County was the first to send traffic tickets electronically.
Plans are under way to roll out a new $30 million case management system for the state's courts, moving away from paper-based to electronic processes and linking all district and appeals courts under the same system.
Currently, 13 counties in the state, including Tulsa and Oklahoma counties, use one case management system; the 64 other counties use another.
Officials hope to have the system complete and all state trial courts online within the four years. The transition begins in 2013.
Eventually, attorneys will be able to file documents remotely, the court clerk's office will begin accepting credit card payments over the phone and most, if not all, files and records will be stored online instead of in stacks of boxes cluttering courthouse offices.
The new system will enable the clerk's office to serve people better and likely lower traffic going in and out of the courthouse, Presley said.
“It's going to save citizens a lot of money because their lawyers are not going to have to leave their offices to conduct business,” she said. “It is very possible that everything that is filed of record, provided that it is not filed under seal, will be available online.”
Rhodes has said that he wants to use the position to continue the work initiated during Presley's reign — using technology and proactive thinking to provide court services with less staff and with less funding.
“She has left this office in much better condition than she found it,” Rhodes said. “Continuing that legacy is going to be a challenge for me.”
The things that I've learned from Patricia I didn't read in any of those law books.”
who will be sworn in Wednesday as court clerk, succeeding Patricia Presley