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County court dispute may be headed for a homer referee

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Dec. 4, 2009 at 6:34 pm |
December 4, 2009 6:34 pm

I’ve been a little fuzzy on the Pierce County Council’s theory on how it could legally eliminate a superior court seat – Department 9 – created by an act of the Legislature. The council is pleading with Gov. Chris Gregoire not to appoint anyone to the supposedly nonexistent seat, and it laid out its arguments a few days ago.

Various legal authorities, including the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, say county officials can’t pull asunder what the Legislature has joined together. Department 9 was created in 1969, long before lawmakers in 1985 allowed counties to share in the decision to create court seats. There’s even a good argument that counties can’t kill seats created after 1985.

The county has now clarified its theory. In its plea to the governor, the council argues that this business of pre- and post-1985 is all nonsense. “To carry that argument out to its logical extension would be to say that a protected class of judges was created simply by the name and number given by the county to the department.”

I.e., the court seats are sort of one aggregated mass – one’s no different from the other, and they all exist at the pleasure of the council.

Another issue in this dispute is legislative (county council) encroachment on judicial (superior court) turf. Which points to perhaps the ultimate weakness in the country’s position: If the argument winds up in court, it’s going to be judges – not county council members – who decide whether county council members can do away with judges’ seats at their legislative discretion.

Gee, I wonder how that ruling’s going to come down.

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