The word Prothonotary is a Latin word meaning “first, chief or highest administrator”. This title dates back in Ecclesiastical Law as being the highest administrator of the Court of Rome and the first Notary known as the Prelate of a body of 12 Notaries. When a case was ready for trial, the Prothonotary would notify the Judges when to appear in Court to try the case.
Later when the English Court system was set up, the Prothonotary acted as the chief administrator in the English Courts of the Kings Bench and Common Pleas. When our American Court system was set up, we also adopted the same procedures as those being used by the English Courts. Every state in our United States has their Clerks of the Common Pleas Court but very few are titled as Prothonotaries. The older New England States and Pennsylvania still have their Prothonotaries. The Prothonotary provides the avenue for external oversight of the Judiciary without the legislative or executive branch of government’s interference with its actions or independence.
This elected official perseveres for the public unfettered access to a fair and accurate record of opinions, decisions and judgments of the court.
Some of the powers and duties of the Prothonotary are as follows:
Signs and seals all writs, processes numerous other documents of the Common Pleas Court such as ejectments, appeal on land damages, collisions, court exhibits, naturalization records, and is the collector of State taxes and other State fees on legal documents. The Prothonotary also certifies and delivers all appeal cases to the State Superior and Supreme courts.
Custodian of the following:
Common Pleas Court Funds and impounded divorce testimony.
The Office of Prothonotary is responsible for the recording and filing of legal papers of a widely diversified character such as: protection from abuse; custody; secured transactions; quiet titles; change of names; administers oaths; power of attorney registrations; passports; school audit reports; treasurer sale deed records; petitions for opening ballot boxes on recounts; judgment notes; suspension of operators license; mechanical liens; municipal liens; county liens; State sales tax liens; State unemployment compensation liens; financial statement registrations; Federal income tax liens; issues divorce certificates; issues naturalization certificates; and certification of District Justice .
Note: The Prothonotary is elected to office for a four-year term.
[taken from the Lancaster County Prothonotary Website]