From bashful teen to County Clerk
By Dana Chrysler
Everett Community College Alumni Outreach Specialist
Sonya Kraski remembers well the day she first entered the Snohomish County Clerk’s office. The year was 1985 and the shy teenager, dressed in a suit, dutifully followed her college instructor into the office.
Sonya was embarking on a college internship, a requirement of one of her business classes at Everett Community College (EvCC).
“I had no idea what the Clerk’s office was,” she said. “I remember my instructor marching into the Clerk’s office and me tagging along behind her—that’s how I started out working in the records room.”
A 1983 graduate of Darrington High School, Sonya grew up in a rural atmosphere, the youngest of three girls.
“My parents’ rule for going to college was that they would pay for room and board and the kids were responsible for our tuition,” she remembered.
After high school graduation, Sonya set her sights on becoming a legal secretary.
“I started going to EvCC to take some of the basic courses,” Sonya said.
Even after beginning her internship at the Clerk’s office, Sonya had every intention of eventually going to work for an attorney.
“I thought it would be a really great experience for me to work in the Clerk’s office for a year or so and that would allow me to network and get to know attorneys,” she said.
But the more Sonya learned about the Clerk’s office, the more intrigued she became.
“When I got to the end of my three-month period, they told me that the records department was going to have an opening—‘Why don’t you test for it?’” Sonya recalled.
The test turned out to be a turning point in the life of the teen.
“I remember sitting down at this old, wooden desk in the Clerk’s office and taking this test—and I passed,” she recounted. “So they hired me to work in the records department.”
While Sonya was hired at the Clerk’s office, she still had 20 credits left to complete her AA degree at EvCC. So, she continued working and obtained her credits by attending night school, finishing in 1987.
Little did the 19-year-old know that she was just beginning a rewarding and increasingly responsible career with the county judicial system.
“I just became more and more interested in the Clerk’s office and appreciated how it was a core part of the Superior Court system,” Sonya said.
Eventually, Sonya moved to the cashiering department within the Clerk’s office, where her interest in the system continued to grow.
“I really learned a lot in that position,” she recalled. “In cashiering, it’s not just a matter of taking in money—you’re handling different types of cases as well.”
In 1989, after three years in the cashier department, Sonya moved into the courtroom to work as a clerk.
“Working in the courtroom is like being on the front lines,” she said. “The courtroom is where everything is happening. You’re seeing first-hand the real-life issues and what’s going on.”
Sonya loved the work and felt that she was in a position where she made a difference in people’s lives.
“Working in the court system, you are dealing every day with issues that affect people’s personal lives, whether it’s someone who’s been the victim of a crime or someone who’s going through a divorce,” she reflected. “If they’re in the court system, somebody feels that they have been wronged and it’s such a core part of what our democracy in the U.S. is all about.”
Looking back, Sonya says that her courtroom experience provided great on-the-job training for her current position, especially in the area of human relations.
“It really made me sit back and think that what you see is not necessarily what you get,” she said. “Someone may look like they have it all together, but the truth may be that they have suffered something really horrific in their life.”
From her exposure to the diverse courtroom situations, Sonya learned a valuable skill: how to maintain composure.
“When you hear the father of a murder victim testifying on the stand, your heart goes out to that person, and yet, you have to maintain absolute composure. That’s a great skill to have,” she said.
Now, as the Snohomish County Clerk and manager of 75 employees in seven divisions, Sonya utilizes those same skills acquired through her courtroom experience.
“Working in the courtroom really taught me how to interact with people, to be more objective, and how to interact on a professional level,” she stated. “I still refer back mentally to my experiences in my first two positions with the Clerk’s office in making decisions.”
After spending 12 years in the courtroom and another six years as manager of court services, Sonya eventually became Snohomish County Clerk in 2008 and is currently serving a second four-year term.
“The reason I ran for this position to begin with is because I feel so very strongly about the role that the court system plays in our democracy,” Sonya explained. “The reason the Clerk is an elected official is to ensure the integrity of the courtroom and to make sure the judges aren’t keeping their own records and controlling the monies that come into court,” she elaborated. “It’s really to ensure a balance, to protect them from an appearance of impropriety and to make sure the citizens have somebody there who is ensuring that things are done correctly and properly.”
Budget concerns have been the most challenging aspect of Sonya’s career as County Clerk. When she took office over four years ago, there were 88 staff, but cutbacks have reduced that number to the current 75.
“It’s challenging to ensure that we’re providing good services to our citizens and that my staff isn’t being burned out,” she admitted.
Challenges aside, Sonya finds great reward in finding and making improvements to the way things have always been done. She proudly points out that when she started working in the courtroom, all of the data entries were done by hand.
“I developed the first computerized entries and they actually used that program up until last year when we were able to get something developed in Word that works for our staff,” she said. Her goal is for the Clerk’s office to eventually be paperless or to at least provide “paper on demand.”
Another proud moment for Sonya was her completion of the Fellowship for Courtroom Management, a program that included the equivalent of writing a thesis. Sonya’s paper was titled, “Is a Paperless Court Feasible in Snohomish County?”
She counts the Fellowship program’s graduation experience as one of her most memorable moments.
“Our graduation ceremony was held in 2010 at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.,” she enthused. “Chief Justice Roberts attended the ceremony and spoke to the 25 graduates.”
Is there anything Sonya would have done differently along the way?
“I’m very happy with where my career has brought me,” she mused. “Looking back, with respect to education, I didn’t have a long-term vision, however.”
One thing is clear: Sonya counts her experience at EvCC as life-changing.
“If it weren’t for my class at EvCC, I would have never gone to the Clerk’s office,” she reminisced. “Without having to leave the community that I was comfortable with, the college expanded my horizons in ways that I never could have imagined.”