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Outgoing Oklahoma County court clerk leaves legacy of customer service

Patricia Presley, Oklahoma County's first female court clerk, retires Dec. 31 after 16 years
by Tim Willert Published: December 30, 2012

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.”

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by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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The things that I've learned from Patricia I didn't read in any of those law books.”

Tim Rhodes,
who will be sworn in Wednesday as court clerk, succeeding Patricia Presley


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