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Quarter Sessions Court, Clerk of

[Record group 21]
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Agency Function
The powers, functions, and duties of the Clerk of Quarter Sessions are prescribed by the state statutes of Pennsylvania and the local ordinances of the Philadelphia City Council. Under current laws, Quarter Sessions serves the Criminal Courts of Common Pleas and Municipal Courts, as well as the Juvenile Division of Family Court. Its clerks record, index, and file all bills of information and transcripts of Municipal Court. They post to dockets, take bail imposed by judges, enter judgments upon bail forfeitures, issue bench warrants, collect fines and costs imposed by the courts, record on bills of information or criminal transcripts the decisions of the courts, issue commitments or discharges for defendants, and when necessary, answer numerous inquiries from prisoners, attorneys, and judges. The Clerk's office also expedites matters such as petitions for writs of habeas corpus, appeals from convictions, issuance of private detective licenses, and other miscellaneous matters.

In serving the Juvenile Division of Family Court, the Clerk of Quarter Sessions handles all matters relative to court case files, including sending subpoenas to witnesses and notifying attorneys of case dates and activities.

Agency History
The Courts of Quarter Sessions, with their necessary Clerks, were established in each county of Pennsylvania by William Penn's Frame of Government of 1682. These earliest "Clerks of the Courts" (the methods of whose appointment is not determined) until the first years of the eighteenth century also performed functions later assigned to the Prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas and the Register of Wills. An Act of 1701 directed that the Clerks be appointed by the Governor from recommendations made by each court's justices, and at that time the Deputy Register General in each county assumed the duties of the present Register of Wills in regard to the probate functions of Quarter Sessions which were transferred to justices of Common Pleas by mid-century. At the establishment of the Court of Common Pleas in 1707, and the creation of the office of Prothonotary, no method of his appointment was fixed but his duties were in any case performed by the Clerk of Quarter Sessions and it is quite possible that he was more often known as the Prothonotary than as the Clerk. Throughout the eighteenth century, Quarter Sessions was gradually assigned such county housekeeping functions as the opening of roads or bridges, appointing and auditing the accounts of various county officers and punishing those guilty of misfeasance, the establishment of election districts, and the licensing of taverns, hackneys, draymen, and peddlers. The State Constitution of 1790 made the Clerk an appointee of the Governor. With the acquisition the following year of the oyer and terminer jurisdiction by the Court of Quarter Sessions its Clerk became Clerk of Oyer and Terminer also. An Act of 1838 made the posts of all county court clerks elective for three years (extended to four years in 1909). Unlike the office of Prothonotary, the Clerk of Quarter Sessions remained an elective position under the Constitution of 1874 and subsequent Constitutional and legislative actions. Although the Quarter Sessions Court functions became part of the Court of Common Pleas in 1968, the office of Clerk of Quarter Sessions remained as a functioning office, responsible for the trial division of the Court of Common Pleas and for the Municipal Court.

In 1803 and 1834, respectively, Quarter Sessions was assigned power to erect townships and boroughs, and in 1873 was given the function of creating and changing the boundaries of City wards. During the period 1838-1843, the Court was deprived of its criminal jurisdiction which was assigned first to the newly-created Court of Criminal Sessions and then to its successor, the Court of General Sessions. At the latter's abolishment in 1843, Quarter Sessions resumed that jurisdiction. As a county officer, the Clerk's duties were relatively unchanged by the City-County Consolidation Act of 1854, the Bullitt Bill of 1855, and the City Charters of 1919 and 1951. At the creation of Municipal (County) Court in 1913, the Clerk of Quarter Sessions was made that Court's clerk in regard to its criminal jurisdiction.

Archival Records
21.1 Annual Report (19581967, 19711974, 19761980. 19831984)

21.2 Docket (1753-1838, 1843-1879)

21.3 Oyer and Terminer Docket (1794-1840)

21.4 Minute Book (1799-1802, 1804-1805, 1807-1825, 18291838, 18461852, 18541870, 19321933)

21.5 Notes of Testimony (1877-1915)

21.6 Desertion Docket (1865-1914)

21.7 Miscellaneous Desertion Docket (1879-1913)

21.8 Contested Election Docket (1879-1915)

21.9 "Fairmount Park Commissioners Docket" (1867-1920)

21.10 Habeus Corpus Docket (1867-1911)

21.11 Habeus Corpus Petitions (1906-1944)

21.12 Liquor Licenses. Minute Books (1820-1914)

21.13 Liquor Seizure Docket (1924-1925)

21.14 Lunacy Commitment Docket (1905-1916)

21.15 Lunacy Commitment Papers (1911-1912)

21.16 Miscellaneous Docket (1861-62, 1882-1925, 1933)

21.17 Docket, Declarations of Intention of Naturalization (1802-1906, 1913-1930)

21.18 Petitions for Naturalization (1800-1897, 1914-1930)

21.19 Correspondence regarding naturalizations (1929-1942)

21.20 Petitions regarding Election District Changes (1933)

21.21 Petitions for Issuance of Detective Licenses (1911-1917)

21.22 Recognizance Forfeitures, Judgment Docket (1846-1868)

21.23 Recognizance Forfeitures, Execution Docket (1849-1879)

21.24 Bail Bond Forfeitures (1911-1916)

21.25 Road Docket (1685-1953)

21.26 Road Petitions (1685-1919)

21.27 Road Case Record (1836-1944)

21.28 Road Jury Record (1896-1899)

21.29 Road Bonds Record (1893-1928)

21.30 Rules of the Court (March 1961)

21.31 Special Grand Jury, 1934: Notes of Testimony (January - March 1934)

21.32 Special Grand Jury 1937, Presentments (1939)

21.33 Special Grand Jury 1937, Notes of Testimony (September 1937-June 1939)

21.34 Special Grand Jury 1937, Schedule of Digests (1937-1939)

21.35 Special Grandy Jury 1937, Witness Record (1937-1939)

21.36 Special Grand Jury 1937, Witness and Volume Record (1937-1939)

21.36a Special Grand Jury 1937, Stenographers' Financial Records and Copies of Transcripts (1937-1938)

21.37 Special Grand Jury 1950, Notes of Testimony (1950-1951)

21.38 Special Grand Jury 1950, Day Book (1950-1951)

21.39 Special Grand Jury 1951, Notes of Testimony (1951-1952)

21.40 Grand Jury Presentments (1944-1954, 1971)

21.40a Grand Jury Hearing Record (October 1849)

21.41 Jurors Time Book (1847-1854, 1906-1911)

21.42 Ward Realignment Commission, Report and Plan (1965)

21.43 Municipal Court, Domestic Relations Docket (1922-1938)

21.43a Municipal Court, Domestic Relations Cases (1936)

21.44 Municipal Court, Support Orders (1911-1913)

21.45 Bills of Indictment, Nolle Prosequi (1874-1907)

21.46 Bills of Indictment (December 1838 - October 1915)

Current Records

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Last updated on November 8, 2000