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Prothonotary described in Black’s Law Dictionary is the title given to an officer who officiates as principal clerk of some courts. The term Prothonotary first appears in Pennsylvania history in 1707 when the Court of Common Pleas was first established as a separate court. The term Prothonotary was used interchangeably with that of Clerk of Courts and both positions were filled by the same man. This man was appointed by the Governor of the colonies to issue all writs (a judicial order to perform a specified act) and processes (any means used by court to acquire or exercise its jurisdiction over a person or over specific property) of the court under county seal. Unless removed for malfeasance or senility, Prothonotaries remained in office for life which meant 20 to 30 years. The Prothonotary frequently found himself in the middle of angry buyers, sellers and surveyors because land records were also under his care. Settlers and speculators all wanted to make certain that the land they owned was properly recorded. So great was the Prothonotary’s influence that inhabitants of the county advised him of any political action that ran contrary to the present interests of the day. The Prothonotary, people knew, represented law and order.

In 1838, the Prothonotary became an elected official for three years, which continued until 1909. In some counties all court clerk positions were held by one person, which in some counties is true today. In 1929 county laws were revised. First, second, third and fourth-class counties shall have one Prothonotary and one Clerk of Courts. Fifth, sixth, and seventh class counties will elect one person to be both Prothonotary and Clerk of Courts. In eighth class counties, one person shall fill all five clerical offices.

The Prothonotary must be an American Citizen and a resident of the county for at least one year before assuming office. If the Prothonotary dies, the governor may appoint a successor with a confirmation of 2/3 of the Senate.