Llezelle Dugger is no stranger to politics. She studied government at UC-Berkeley, she’s been a City School Board member since 2008, and her first job in Charlottesville was working for local attorney and State Delegate David Toscano, just after he was elected to his first term on City Council.
After beating 30-year veteran Paul Garrett with 62 percent of the vote to become the new Clerk of Courts, Dugger will leave behind her work as assistant public defender, but she’ll be bringing the same hands-on and unapologetically ambitious attitude to her new job.
“The challenge right now is getting the clerk’s office where I want it. You hear that Charlottesville is a world class city, a progressive city, and yet we have a clerk’s office that is not in the 21st century,” Dugger said.
Born in the Philippines before her parents immigrated to the San Francisco Bay area, Dugger credits her roots with instilling the values of service and education.
“My parents started out on food stamps when they first got here, and I remember standing in line to get the powdered eggs and powdered milk and everything,” she said. “They really did live the American dream.”
Dugger moved to Charlottesville in 1990 with her husband Alan—an Army Special Forces reservist who served in Afghanistan and got his Ph.D. in government at UVA—and took a job as legal secretary with Williamson & Toscano Attorneys.
“It certainly introduced me to the local political party…,” Dugger said. “I worked with them for two years and I got to meet the folks that were the up and comers in the Democratic Party back in the early ’90s.”
After two years in the office, Dugger left and got her law degree at William & Mary. She has served as assistant public defender since 2000. She beat Garrett, who had become an institution, in part by promising to bring the office’s land and criminal records systems online.
“Probably the loudest voice you’ve heard from this community with regards to the clerk’s office race is online access…” Dugger said. “It’s all in our system down there in the clerk’s office, but you can’t access it online and Charlottesville is one of the few courts that you can’t do that.”
She doesn’t see it as an insurmountable task, but rather as taking a logical step in the right direction.
“It’s a matter of getting with the Supreme Court, getting with the City of Charlottesville, because you’re talking about two government entities, and figuring out how difficult it will be to hook it up,” said Dugger. “I don’t think it’s going to be that difficult, because all the state circuit courts use the same case management system.”
As for her political future, Dugger said public service is in her blood and the Clerk of Courts office is the right place for her right now.
“I wouldn’t say I’m not ever going to run for another political office, but this is the right fit for me now,” Dugger said. “My skill sets are there. My people skills, the customer service and creating a friendly environment. I want to change the culture.”