Inside Opinion

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Tag: Pierce County Council

Nov.
12th

The County Council killed that court seat far too hastily

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The Pierce County Council’s determination to get rid of a Superior Court seat is looking less wise by the day.

Last week, after Judge Michael Hecht resigned from the court’s Department 9, the council quickly voted to dismantle the entire department. It was an emergency ordinance, adopted unanimously without hearing or opportunity for outside questioning.

A less hasty process would have turned up a serious problem: The action may be flat illegal. Presiding Judge Bryan Chushcoff has raised this possibility, as has the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association President David Snell and Doug Vanscoy, the chief civil deputy of the county prosecutor’s office.

The chief legal concern is that Department 9 was created by the Legislature, and the county government – a creature of the state government – may well have no authority to undo that legislative act. This is a Civics 201 kind of question that would occur to any good attorney specializing in local government. An issue so serious shouldn’t be arising after the fact; the County Council should have first bothered to explore the implications of what it was doing.
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Nov.
7th

County officials argue – and justice suffers

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The resignation of Judge Michael Hecht Monday didn’t just rid Pierce County Superior Court of a malodorous scandal. It quickly exposed serious fault lines in county government.

A day after Hecht vacated Department 9 – his seat on the bench – the County Council surprised nearly everyone by voting unanimously to eliminate the seat. County Executive Pat McCarthy hadn’t been in the loop; she didn’t hear about the action until after it had happened.

Fault No. 1: Mutual resentment between the county’s executive and legislative branches. McCarthy is a Democrat and the council is Republican-dominated, but this doesn’t seem to be an entirely partisan thing: The council Democrats were part of that unanimous vote.

Some council members have long complained that McCarthy doesn’t work well with them, doesn’t communicate well, etc. Their elimination of Department 9 was clearly driven by deep worries about the county’s dire financial straits. But the way they did it looks a lot like a snub of McCarthy.

Fault No. 2: A split between county Prosecutor Mark Lindquist and both the council and the Superior Court bench. Lindquist has been hesitant to criticize the council, but he made it clear Tuesday that he was unhappy about the loss of Department 9. He’s been working with the bench – successfully, but with some frustrations – to reduce the backlog of criminal cases. The loss of a judge would make that task harder, although Lindquist is optimistic about reaching a cooperative solution.
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