The Prothonotary is the Clerk of the Civil Division of the Court of Common Pleas
The word Prothonotary is a Latin word meaning “First Notary”. This word dates back to Ecclesiastical Law as being the highest administrator of the Court of Rome. When a case was ready for trial, the Prothonotary would notify the Judges when to appear in Court to try the case.
Later, when the English Court system was established, the Prothonotary acted as the chief administrator in the English Courts of the King’s Bench and Common Pleas. When our
American Court system was set up; we also adopted the same procedure as those being used by the English Courts.
In Pennsylvania prior to 1790, the Prothonotary was appointed by the General Assembly. The Prothonotary frequently found himself in the middle of angry buyers, sellers and surveyors because land records were also under his care. The Prothonotary, people knew, represented law and order. From 1790 to 1838, it was appointed by the governor. Since that time, the office has been an elective choice of its citizens. The Prothonotary has a tremendous responsibility in the operation of the office and rightfully should be an elected official by the choice of the people. It is a fee-operating office and generates income for the County.
The Prothonotary has administrative control and responsibility for keeping and maintaining all official documents and records, as well as the official Seal of the Civil Division. All civil litigation is filed with the Prothonotary. A few examples include the following: unpaid debt complaints, malpractice actions, mortgage foreclosures, personal injury cases, equity actions, replevin, district justice judgment appeals, and license suspension appeals, family court matters such as divorce, child custody and protection from abuse cases. Mechanics’ liens, municipal claims, federal tax and Commonwealth liens are also filed here along with various other judgment liens. The Prothonotary is responsible for recording notary public signatures and maintaining the naturalization records and is also the Acceptance Agency for U.S. Passport applications.
All of the records maintained by the Prothonotary are available to the public unless they are sealed by the Court. All records since 1994 are computerized and documents have been scanned so they are available for viewing by the public. This allows quick access to documents and preserves the documents for the future.
It is the goal of the Prothonotary to operate the office efficiently and at the least cost to the taxpayers.