Allegheny County common pleas judge Kim Berkeley Clark became the first African-American to serve as president judge for the county’s courts during a swearing-in ceremony last week. The landmark shift got no mention at the event, but the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts confirmed Wednesday that the county never before has had a black president judge.
In her new role, Clark will oversee the county’s Court of Common Pleas as well as its magisterial district courts. There are several ways, she said, she would like to improve how the local judiciary operates, with technology at the top of her list.
The judge said that in addition to improving its website, the county court system should create its own app.
“That’s how people communicate nowadays, and so we need to be in tune with our court users,” Clark said.
She also hopes to improve work conditions for court personnel. To that end, she said, she would focus on improving staff safety as well as maternity- and sick-leave policies.
These concerns emerged, Clark noted, when she served as head judge in the trial court’s family division, where she said she met with every employee.
“I’m very appreciative of how hard staff works to make the court process be smooth. And I do my job [as judge] because somebody has helped me get the things together that I need -- somebody schedules things, sends hearing notices, and has everything that I need to do my job,” she said. “I think we can make life a little bit better for court employees.”
Clark added that she plans to consult with judges outside the family division to explore other ways the court as whole could improve.
She also said she would meet with an array of lawyers – ranging from public defenders to children’s advocates and district attorneys – to learn how to make their jobs more manageable.
“They have a lot of work to do with low pay, and I still think they do a great job,” Clark said of some lawyers, who she suspects have high caseloads. “But they could probably even do a better job if we gave them the resources that they need.”
Clark was appointed president judge by the state Supreme Court following a tie vote among her colleagues at the trial court.
She has been a family court judge since 1999, when Former Gov. Tom Ridge appointed her to the Common Pleas Court. Later that year, Clark was elected to serve a 10-year term on the bench. Voters chose to retain her for another 10-year term in 2009.