July 16, 2002
Members of the Northampton County Council
Glenn F. Reibman, County Executive
County of Northampton, Pennsylvania
At the request of County Council, via Resolution Number 30-02, we worked with the
Northampton County Administration and the Curtis Group in conducting a performance
audit of the Civil Division (Prothonotary), Department of Court Services and the
Recorder of Deeds Division, Department of Fiscal Affairs. The specific objectives of our
work were determined after meeting with the Administration and the Curtis Group; they
are listed below.
1. Review the pertinent points of Pennsylvania Land Title Association vs. City of
Philadelphia and determine their applicability in Northampton County.
2. Review compliance with applicable Federal and State regulations regarding
timely recording of documents, accurate indexing of documents and other
3. Survey other counties to determine the extent of their backlogs, if any, and the
ratio of document filings to staff.
4. Review the concerns that title searchers have addressed to the Director of
Court Services and his responses to these concerns.
5. Compare what is currently indexed in the Recorder of Deeds Division to what is
required by law.
6. Provide information and assistance to the Curtis Group as requested.
A significant portion of our audit involved researching laws pertaining to the Recorder of
Deeds and the Civil Division, and interpreting those laws as they apply to Northampton
County. For that we relied on our Solicitor David J. Ceraul, Esquire, to provide us with
The audit was conducted in accordance with Government Auditing Standards issued by
the Comptroller General of the United States.
1. PENNSYLVANIA LAND TITLE ASSOCIATION VS. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA
Background: This lawsuit refers to a 1997 court case brought by the Pennsylvania
Land Title Association vs. the City of Philadelphia. The lawsuit was brought in part
because of the large backlog of documents in the City of Philadelphia’s Recorder of
Deeds Office that were not recorded or indexed.
Results: Attorney Ceraul determined that “most, if not all, of the issues raised in the
City of Philadelphia case deal with the provisions of 16 P.S. Section 9731.” These are
the same statutes that were the basis for the City of Philadelphia court case.
Based on our review we identified four areas where the Northampton County Recorder
of Deeds is in violation of the law. (See section 2A for details) These violations could
be the basis for a legal challenge.
2A. STATUTORY REQUIREMENTS OF THE RECORDER OF DEEDS DIVISION
Background: We obtained the statutory requirements for the Recorder of Deeds
Division from Attorney Ceraul. He also provided us with an opinion that the statute, by
including the term “brought into his office to be recorded”, appears to address all such
documents, whether they are hand-delivered, couriered, mailed, or over-nighted. This
is especially important because documents received over the counter are handled
differently than those received by other means.
The status of County compliance was determined by interview with Ann Achatz,
Recorder of Deeds on 6/19/02.
Results: Based on the results of our testing, there are two sections of the law where
the Recorder of Deeds is not in compliance, resulting in four violations. All four
violations are the result of backlogs in the office.
16 P.S. Section 9731: The Recorder of Deeds is required to “immediately make an
entry of every deed or writing brought into his office to be recorded, mentioning
therein the date, the parties and the place where the lands, tenements or
hereditaments, granted or conveyed by the said deed or writing are situate, dating
the same entry on the day in which such deed or writing was brought into his office,
and shall record all such deeds and writings in regular succession, according to
their priority of time in being brought into said office…”.
• The Recorder of Deeds has a backlog of documents (satisfaction pieces)
received through the mail that have not been recorded.
• Documents not received over the counter are not date stamped the day
they are received.
• Satisfaction pieces received over the counter are recorded the same day,
however, satisfaction pieces received by mail go back several months
and remain in file cabinets. These documents are not recorded in regular
16 P.S. Section 9852: The Recorder of Deeds is required to keep separate
indexes for the grantors and separate indexes for grantees. Also, it is the duty of
the Recorder to index in its appropriate place and manner every deed and
mortgage recorded in his office, at the time the same is recorded.
• Mortgages are recorded on the day they are received but are only
indexed through May 17, 2002.
2B. STATUTORY REQUIREMENTS OF THE CIVIL DIVISION (PROTHONOTARY)
Background: We obtained the statutory requirements for the Civil Division from
Attorney Ceraul. Many of those requirements dealt with maintaining specific types of
indexes or dockets. While many of these requirements may have been practical when
records were maintained manually, they are not practical with automated systems.
The Civil Division computer system, FACTS, allows for a search of the entire civil
database of judgments, claims, liens, etc., using the civil search function. FACTS
contains information dating back to December 15, 1999, when data was converted from
the mainframe to FACTS. Cases that were still open on the mainframe at the time of
the conversion were transferred to FACTS. Data from closed cases was placed on
ALVA CD-ROM for easy retrieval.
The status of County compliance was determined by interview with Holly Ruggiero,
Clerk of Courts/Prothonotary on 6/19/02.
Results: State law requires the Prothonotary to maintain separate indexes or dockets
by secured transactions, petitions for specific performance, mechanic’s liens, locality,
municipal tax liens, State Department of Revenue liens and personal property tax liens.
Since this information is accessible by searching the civil index, it is the opinion of
Attorney Ceraul that the County is complying with the spirit of the law even though they
do not maintain separate indexes or dockets.
Based on the results of our research and interviews, there is one section of the law
where the Prothonotary is not in compliance, resulting in two violations.
42 Pa. C.S.A. Section 2704: The Prothonotary is responsible for the accurate and
timely creation, maintenance, and certification of the record of the matters pending
before, or determined by, the Court of Common Pleas.
• Court Minutes are not recorded in FACTS. Court Minutes may include
condemnations of land, which are important to title searchers.
Judgements, which were backlogged at the start of our audit, have since
been brought up-to-date.
• Court Minutes are not properly secured. As Court Minutes are received
in the office, they are copied, with the original going in the file room and
the copy being placed on the windowsill in Civil. If any of the copies
would be lost, the minutes would not be entered into FACTS because the
copies are used as input documents.
3A. SURVEY OF OTHER RECORDER OF DEEDS OFFICES
Background: In order to determine whether the staff size in the Recorder of Deeds is
adequate, we surveyed Recorders in other Pa. counties. Unfortunately, after some
counties responded, a Recorder from another county sent an e-mail to the other
Recorders in the State, asking them not to cooperate with our survey. Because
Recorders in other counties are elected officials, they were afraid that the information
could be used against them in an election.
Results: There were four counties that participated in our survey, three 3rd Class
Counties and one 5th Class County. Counties A and C who responded use the same
Landex software as Northampton County. The results are shown below.
County County Number of Employees Recorded Backlog
12 FT plus 1 for Yes, mailed-in
Northampton 3rd microfilming 54,583 sats. back to
3 PT 1/28/02.
2 summer help
County A 3rd 20 FT at main office 50,949 No
1 FT at satellite office
County B 3rd 6 PT 102,622 No
12 FT Yes, all types of
County C 3rd 2 summer help 84,948 documents back
Staff works voluntary OT to 4/26/02.
County D 5th 1 PT volunteer 25,630 No
For another comparison, the number of employees vs. the number of documents
recorded was scheduled for the Recorder of Deeds from 1993 to 2001. As can be seen
from the chart, the number of documents recorded can vary greatly from year to year,
and the number of employees has gone from 10 in 1993 to 12 in 2001.
Year Recorded # Employees
1993 53,102 10
1994 52,441 10
1995 39,537 10
1996 42,875 10
1997 44,106 10
1998 53,716 10
1999 55,373 11
2000 45,302 12
2001 54,583 12
3B. SURVEY OF OTHER PROTHONOTARIES
Background: In order to determine whether the staff size in the Civil Division is
adequate, we surveyed Prothonotaries in other Pa. Counties. After some counties did
not return our call, Holly Ruggiero, Clerk of Courts/Prothonotary made some telephone
calls. One county responded to our request and one responded to Ms. Ruggiero’s
Results: There were two 3rd Class counties that participated in our survey. The types
of cases included civil, protection from abuse, and asbestos. There are two notable
differences between Northampton County and the other two counties. First,
Northampton County has five full-time employees assigned to Sheriff’s sale work,
whereas in the other counties, this is handled within the Sheriff’s Department. Second,
during civil court week, Northampton County sends seven clerks to court, whereas the
other counties do not use employees of the Civil Division. The results are shown below.
Class Number of 2001 Cases
County County Employees Filed
Northampton 3rd 2 PT 11,222
5 FT (Sheriff)
1 volunteer (Sheriff)
County A 3rd 21 FT 13,059
County B 3rd 15 FT 13,000
4. TITLE SEARCHERS’ CONCERNS
Background: Over a period of several months, title searchers communicated their
concerns with the Civil Division software (FACTS ) to the Director of Court Services,
Gerald Seyfried. Although the performance of FACTS was not within the scope of this
audit, we were asked by the Administration to look at concerns expressed by the title
searchers and the responses to those concerns.
Results: Through a series of memos, over 70 concerns were relayed to Mr. Seyfried.
Rather than look at the concerns individually, we attended two meetings where the
concerns were discussed. In the first meeting held in the Civil Division, Mr. Seyfried
and Ms. Ruggiero met with the searchers and reviewed their concerns. The next
meeting was a demo of FACTS by personnel of Tiburon, followed by a question and
It appears from the meetings that there were some problems with FACTS that may
have resulted in inaccurate searches. These problems were reported to Tiburon and
were corrected. A problem that still exists pertains to the recording of judgments.
When judgments are received in Civil, they are date and time stamped. When they are
entered into FACTS, there is one field for “date”, so the date that the document was
received is entered. Therefore, a document received in April but not entered until May
would have an April date. This information is misleading to someone performing a
search. Tiburon is looking into the possibility of adding another field for the date that a
document is entered.
Overall, the searchers did have some legitimate complaints that were addressed where
possible. Some of the concerns appear to be the complexities with learning a new
system and a system that is not as user friendly as the prior system. Mr. Seyfried, Ms.
Ruggiero and Ms. Smith, Deputy Director of Court Administration have been working
with the searchers to address their concerns. A set of instructions for using FACTS has
been placed at each public PC in Civil. Additional meetings will be held with the
searchers and all concerns will be reviewed and ranked according to priority and cost.
A better working relationship between the parties should result in a system that better
serves all parties.
5. DATA INDEXED IN THE RECORDER OF DEEDS OFFICE
Background: A concern of the Administration was that more information was being
indexed in the Deeds Office than was required. They were concerned that the time
spent entering this additional information may be related to the backlog of unrecorded
Results: The following chart presents a comparison between the information that is
recorded/indexed and that which is required to be indexed. It should also be noted that
the majority of the required information is entered when the document is recorded. At
that time the document is scanned and an image of the document is available on the
public computers in Deeds. After scanning, the additional information is indexed.
Required to be
Information Recorded/Indexed Indexed
Type of document (deed, mortgage, etc) X
Date of recording X
Date of instrument X
All grantees and grantors X
Location of property (map, block, lot) X
Reference to related documents
The information that is recorded/indexed, which is not required, is minimal. The
information is important to anyone researching documents and does not appear to
require a great deal of time to enter.
6. PROVIDE ASSISTANCE TO CURTIS GROUP
Throughout the audit we met with members of the Curtis Group and the Department of
Human Resources to share information. We also provided them with sections of Policy
and Procedure Manuals that we prepared for the Civil Division and Recorder of Deeds.
We acknowledge the cooperation and assistance we received from the Recorder of
Deeds, Civil Division, counties that participated in our survey and various other
individuals. Their help was essential to the performance of this audit.
Very truly yours,
John T. Schimmel, PA Paul L. Albert, CIA
County Controller Lead Auditor