Inside Opinion

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Tag: Pierce County Superior Court


Advice for judge wannabes

Here’s some unsolicited advice for judicial candidates: Ask your campaign volunteers not to break any laws while they’re out posting your signs. It just looks bad when they do.

Here’s the scenario I observed this morning on my way to work: At the busy intersection of Pine and Center Street, a tall, bearded gentleman carrying a sign in one hand and a hammer in the other walked across Pine while the pedestrian signal clearly said not to cross. He pounded the sign in, giving everyone stopped at the light a good look at the name on it (a candidate for

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The court needed counsel on its jury trial decision

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

As the Legislature demonstrates on a regular basis, you can’t make deep funding cuts in public services while holding everyone harmless. That goes for state government, and it goes for the Pierce County Superior Court.

But there’s a difference: When state lawmakers write a budget, all citizens with a stake in the outcome can get a hearing in Olympia – if not personally, through lobbyists or advocacy groups. When the Pierce County court recently trimmed more than $400,000 out of its budget – in part by eliminating five weeks of jury trials – nobody got a hearing.

Let’s be clear: The superior court bench is under no obligation to bring any non-judges into its decision-making loop. It is an independent branch of government, and no outsiders – whether the county executive, the Pierce County Council or citizens at large – should be micromanaging its decisions on the administration of justice. The court’s policies certainly shouldn’t be distorted by pressure groups and lobbyists.

But the fact that the court can keep everyone else out of the process doesn’t mean it ought to. The Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association and the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office in particular have an enormous stake in how well the gears of justice mesh.

They complain that the bench sprang the week-long jury blackouts on them as a fait accompli, with no chance for input. That was a mistake: The bar and the prosecutor’s office are full of smart people who presumably might have offered some good ideas had they been quietly consulted.
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County court dispute may be headed for a homer referee

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.
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A drug court for Tacoma’s veterans

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Drug court is one of the best ideas ever to hit Pierce County’s criminal justice system. It’s just been joined by another great idea: veterans drug court.

The county’s drug court – one of the nation’s first, in 1994 – operates on the premise that treating addicts instead of merely jailing them works better for everyone. Substance-abusers accused of drug- or alcohol-connected crimes – small-time trafficking, theft, drunk driving, for example – must voluntarily opt in. They waive their right to a trial and accept the maximum sentence for their offense.

The sentence is then suspended on condition they follow a strict regimen designed to break their addiction: treatment, participation in group meetings, random urine tests, avoidance of any criminal activity. The Pierce County Alliance runs the treatment side of things.

If they fail, they get the book thrown at them. If they succeed, the charge is dismissed. Studies have shown the program to be much more effective than jail in preventing relapses and further crimes, and saving the taxpayers’ money.

The veterans’ drug court, announced last week, is being launched with the help of a three-year, $900,000 grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. The new program will be able to tap into the treatment and health resources of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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Maybe the County Council CAN’T get rid of that court seat

There might be a problem with the Pierce County Council’s decision to do away with former Judge Michael Hecht’s old seat on the bench: The Washington Constitution.

Doug Vanscoy, the chief civil deputy of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, took a look this week at the legalities of the council’s action and came up with some interesting conclusions. I summarize:

• The seat in question, Department 9, was created by the Legislature – not the county – in 1969.

• The constitution gives the Legislature sole discretion over the creation of judgeships.

• In 1985, the Legislature began to share

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Why not to run against a Pierce County judge

Another take on why Pierce County lawyers don’t run against sitting judges. In keeping with the general theme of not wanting to antagonize said judges, this attorney has asked me not to use his name:

Hi Pat,

I’ve been meaning to give you feedback about the blog concerning why good local lawyers don’t more often file against incumbent judges. “Etiquette” doesn’t begin to explain it.

From this lawyer’s perspective, here are some among a myriad of reasons:

The withering scrutiny the candidate will face. You’d better not have ever expressed the belief that marriage presupposes a man and a woman, or hired household help who lacked a green card, or told a joke that somebody, somewhere, might find offensive, or overlooked paying your income tax . . . although the latter would not disqualify you from becoming Secretary of the Treasury. :)

The demands of the financial disclosure laws. Who among us wants to expose every detail of our financial affairs to public view? If you’re in a law firm, many of the firm’s records will also be disclosed.
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Double health plans for $148,000 judges?

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

If you’re a judge, you’re a lawyer. If you’re a lawyer, you’ve probably had to defend the indefensible at some point in your career.

That’s the best explanation we can come up with for the way some Pierce County judges are fighting to hang on to the luxury of double medical coverage.
County Executive Pat McCarthy has been scrounging for any kind of savings in her recession-struck budget. One thing she’s targeting is the $182,000 the county pays to extend health insurance to members of the Pierce County Superior Court, all of whom are already covered by the state’s health plan.

You cut that $182,000, and the judges will still have coverage. They just won’t have the almost unparalleled extravagance of coverage by two plans at once, an arrangement that virtually eliminates out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Presiding Judge Bryan Chushcoff (who may be dutifully representing his “clients” on the bench) offers a double-tiered defense.
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