Clerk of Courts stepping down

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 14, 2004

Dale Burcham has never loathed a good day's work.

"I have really, really loved this job. I've heard people say they hate to go to work. This is one job I've always looked forward to," said Burcham, the Lawrence County clerk of courts. "Something happens every day. I'm a 'people person.' I enjoy talking to people. It might sound corny but I enjoy helping people. If someone comes in and I can help them, steer them in the right direction, I probably get more (satisfaction) out of it than they do."

For Burcham, though, the time has come to give up that job he loves so he can relax a little. At 73, Burcham will retire as clerk of courts Feb. 28, ending a 35-year career. The Lawrence County Commission Thursday appointed Bob Blankenship to fill Burcham's post until the Democratic party can choose someone who will hold that post until the November election.

Email newsletter signup

Burcham has been elected as clerk of courts nine times, starting with his election in 1968. He has served longer than any other Democratic officeholder in the county. He will tell you that the last 35 years have been busy ones.

"Times have changed, everything is faster now, and everyone is in a hurry," Burcham said.

The workload has increased over the years, too. More divorces, criminal cases, and lawsuits are being filed and the clerk of courts office handles all of this. The title department alone does $600,00-$900,000 a month. He estimated that the office takes in an estimated $10 million to $12 million annually. Burcham is quick to give credit to an efficient staff.

"I've been fortunate to have good employees," Burcham said. "Two of my employees have been with me since I've been here. Two others employees have been her 30 years and a couple probably 25 years or more. That's a long time.

"One of the hard parts of retiring is leaving these employees. We grew up together. I have two excellent bookkeepers. They take good care of this office."

Whatever action takes place in the common pleas and municipal courts is finalized in Burcham's office. Guilty pleas, arraignments, jail bonds are all documented by the clerk of courts. As clerk, his work often does not stop when the clock hits 4 p.m. Burcham often is called on to come to the courthouse nights and weekends to handle jail bonds. His palette of job duties has produced some vivid memories over the years.

"I remember one time The Avengers motorcycle club had come into Ironton for the arraignment of 'Big Tony' (a club member) and the bond was $75,000," Burcham said.

Burcham said he couldn't remember what the man was charged with.

"Lloyd Moore was representing 'Big Tony' and he called and said he wanted to make bond before I went home," he said.

About 4 p.m., Burcham said Moore called him and said he couldn't make bond by then, but he wanted to make it at 9 p.m.

"I said OK. It was a Friday night and the courthouse was empty and there was some concern on my part.

At 8 p.m., Burcham said Moore called again and said he could not make bond at 9 p.m. and asked to change it to 10 a.m. the next morning.

"Same scenario - it's a Saturday and I agreed to come to his office," he said. "I knew the bank had a night drop next door. I went into his conference room and all these members of the motorcycle club

started filing in and they started dumping all this money onto the table. Some of it was in paper sacks, some in saddle bags. I put the money into stacks and counted it."

This took about an hour, Burcham said. He signed the bail papers and took them to "Big Tony," who was at the Lawrence County Jail.

"He sat there and read every word," Burcham recalls. "The cook was standing behind him and she said 'he makes me try every portion of food on his plate before he heats it. He thinks the sheriff is trying to poison him.'"

As clerk of courts, Burcham is the only person in the county who can sign a death penalty warrant. The last time he was called on to do this was several years ago when Lawrence County was given one of the capital cases from the Lucasville prison riot.

During his tenure, the office that once relied on manual typewriters when Burcham took office is computerized now, with an Web site where the public can pull up a case and look at action taken by the courts. This is a point of pride with him.

"This has probably saved us 50 to 60 phone calls a month," Burcham said. "This helps if its an out-of-town attorney or out-of-town person. A person can look and see what's going on in the case.

Burcham said one of the good things about retiring is he will be able to devote more time to one of his passions: Marshall football. The Thundering Herds' spring practice is right around the corner and, being an avid fan of the "Big Green," he tries not to miss a game.

"I plan to do some volunteer work," he said. "I'll probably go and relax, probably loaf some, but I golf so I'll stay busy."

Burcham and his wife, Betty, have been married 51 years. They have four children, a daughter, Margery, and three sons,

Stephen, Scott and Shawn. He has eight grandchildren and one great-grand child, with another one on the way.