The Prothonotary is the Clerk of the Civil Division of the Court of Common Pleas who is elected to a four year term.
The word Prothonotary is a Latin word meaning "First Notary". This word dates back to 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 established, the Prothonotary acted as the chief administrator in the English Courts of the King's Bench and Common Pleas. When our American Court system was set up, we also adopted the same procedure as those being used by the English Courts. Every state in our United States has its Clerk of the Common Pleas Court but very few are titled as Prothonotaries. The older New England States and Pennsylvania still have their Prothonotaries.
In Pennsylvania prior to 1790, the Prothonotary was appointed by the General Assembly. From 1790 to 1838, it was appointed by the Governor. Since that time, the office has been an elective choice of its citizens. The Prothonotary has a tremendous responsibility in the operation of this office and rightfully should be an elective official by the choice of the electorate. It is a fee-operating office and is self-supporting. No tax money is used for the payment of the salary of the Prothonotary and the entire staff. All surpluses are turned over to the County Treasurer for the use of the County government.