By Randy Arrington
LURAY, May 23 — For the past two decades, Stephanie Breeden has served the people of Page County in several capacities. The life-long resident spent 10 years working with the Department of Social Services, before taking a position in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office in 2014. Now, the office manager and legal assistant is throwing her hat in the ring for clerk of the circuit court.
“I didn’t decide as a child that I wanted to be in public office…but I work so closely with the clerk’s office that I see things that need to be corrected, and I believe I’m the person that can improve the clerk’s office,” Breeden told Page Valley News this week in announcing her candidacy. “It’s hard to make myself get in this political game because I just want to get in there and do the work.”
Breeden has gathered the required 125 signatures and filed most of the paperwork necessary with the registrar to make her candidacy official. The remaining documents, Breeden says, will be filed well ahead of the June 20 deadline.
Her entrance into the race creates a three-way contest with Republican incumbent Grayson Markowitz, who recently lost the local GOP committee’s endorsement to Shirron Ballard during a mass meeting on May 16. Markowitz immediately announced he would continue his candidacy as an independent.
“I purposefully did not pursue [the Republican nomination] because of Grayson,” said Breeden, who previously served as the secretary of the local GOP committee. “But I also always knew I wanted to run as an independent because I don’t think this position should be Republican or Democrat…it serves everyone.”
Breeden, 45, graduated from Luray High School in 1996 and attained her associate’s degree from then-Lord Fairfax Community College in 1999. In addition to her duties in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, the mother of two finds time to serve as president of the Page Valley Fair Association, help lead the Junior Stockman Club in the local 4-H chapter, and runs calls with the Luray Volunteer Rescue Squad.
While she states clearly that she doesn’t want to run a negative campaign, Breeden is highly critical of the performance of the current clerk of the court, who’s making $133,456 annually.
“When things are not done correctly, it affects someone’s life…it may mean someone is not released [from jail] when they should be…it may mean a deed is not recorded correctly…but everything that happens [in that office] is vital to people’s lives,” the independent hopeful said. “I feel like Page County is not being served well by the current clerk…my tax dollars are going to pay his salary and it’s not an efficient office.”
After nearly a decade in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, Breeden believes that she is ready to take on the challenges that the clerk’s office faces, including a much higher demand and volume than in years past.
“In my current job I already process court orders…I understand the workings of it…I understand the court process…I understand the Comp Board and help prepare department budgets,” she said. “I believe that my experience and education makes me the person who can move the clerk’s office forward and make it able to maintain the current demand.”
Among Breeden’s concerns about the current operations of the clerk’s office is the fact that hourly staff members do not fill out time sheets and are not paid for hours worked beyond 5 p.m. when court cases (like the recent murder trial) run longer into the evening. According to Breeden, the practice is not only unethical, but illegal, and could set the county up for a potential civil suit demanding back wages for up to eight years. In addition to court sessions running long, staff members have been known to come in on weekends to get caught up on the tremendous backlogs that exist (sometimes as much as six months) and have not been compensated for their time.
“What’s holding that office together is what the staff is doing,” Breeden said. “The clerk needs to work…I feel like a clerk needs to be a person that can pick up a file and take care of anything that is needed…”
Local courts are seeing more and more cases. Jury trials have gone from a handful a year to several dozen, which means more work coordinating those jurors. Case paperwork, court filings, deeds on new homes, everything seems to be increasing in volume as the office struggles to keep up.
If given the opportunity at the polls this fall, Breeden says that she wants to get things “organized” in the clerk’s office, expand the availability of scanned records for public access (currently records before 2019 are not scanned in), and implement an automated system (like one used in Rockingham County and other surrounding localities) to help communicate with potential jurors.
Breeden lives with her husband Chad and their two boys in Luray, and they have a small family farm in the Kimball area. She made her campaign color green in honor of her father, Ricky Judd, who passed away last July. Her mother-in-law passed the previous January. Nearly a half dozen deaths in the family made 2022 a tough year, but it doesn’t slow this family down — her husband and father-in-law have a combined 85 years of service with the Luray Volunteer Fire Department. Breeden often finds herself helping with fundraisers or projects to support their efforts as well.
Now, she wants to turn her professional attention to being clerk of the Page County Circuit Court, and improving an office that, she says, seems to be struggling with an increasing demand and inefficient management.
“Things have got to get organized,” Breeden said.
“Somebody needs to make it right.”
To learn more about Stephanie Breeden or to follow her campaign, visit her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100092433855080
Those wishing to contact the candidate may do so via email at:
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