The Pierce County Council Tuesday confirmed its decision to eliminate funding for the Superior Court seat of Judge Michael Hecht.
The council approved an amendment to its 2010 budget that stipulates its Superior Court appropriation includes salary and benefits for 21 judicial positions. The county had 22 Superior Court judges before Hecht announced his resignation last week.
The council voted unanimously to approve the budget language. But there is some division on the council about how it might eventually restore the judge’s post.
Earlier in the meeting, the council defeated – by a vote of 2-5 – a proposal that would have reinstated Hecht’s seat as of Sept. 1, 2010. Councilmen Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma, and Terry Lee, R-Gig Harbor, supported the failed measure.
Farrell said he thinks the council made the right decision to eliminate funding for Hecht’s post in 2009. But he wanted to specify a date the position would be restored.
But a majority thought it was too soon to commit to a specific timetable for restoring Hecht’s seat. They want to wait and see how next year’s budget plays out before making a decision.
The council voted unanimously last week to eliminate Hecht’s seat a day after he resigned. Council members say they wanted to save money and maintain budget flexibility. They say the court can use pro-tem judges to pick up the slack. And they say the state is paying for a commissioner next year that will further ease the workload on judges.
The county prosecuting attorney’s office and the local bar association have questioned the legality of the council’s decision. Council members say they have the budget authority to eliminate funding for the court seat.
Superior Court presiding Judge Bryan Chushcoff has declined to comment on the council’s move. But on Tuesday he urged the council to reject the measure confirming the elimination of Hecht’s job for 2010. He expressed concerns about “the practicality and legality of all this,” but did not elaborate.