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AG opinion: Pierce council can’t eliminate Superior Court seat

Post by David Wickert on Feb. 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm with 11 Comments »
February 5, 2010 5:24 pm

The state Attorney General’s Office has concluded the Pierce County Council did not have the legal authority to eliminate the Superior Court seat held by Judge Michael Hecht.

In an opinion issued today, Attorney General Rob McKenna and Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even wrote that the state constitution authorizes the Legislature to direct the number of judges for each superior court.

“A county legislative authority desiring to reduce that number may work with the Legislature to do so through a statutory amendment,” the opinion states.

You can download a PDF copy of the opinion here.

A spokesman for Gov. Chris Gregoire said she will proceed with filling the post. Because there are six vacant superior court seats throughout the state at the moment, it may be six months before the governor receives recommendations for appointments from her legal counsel, according to spokesman Biet Shelton.

The County Council eliminated funding for Hecht’s seat in November, just a day after the judge announced his resignation. The council cited the need for budget flexibility.

The county prosecuting attorney’s office, County Executive Pat McCarthy and the local bar association claimed the move was illegal. State Court Administrator Jeff Hall requested the attorney general’s opinion.

The council issued a statement this afternoon saying that “if Pierce county must reinstate its 22nd Superior Court judge, the County Council believes the state of Washington should help cover the cost.” In the statement Chairman Roger Bush, R-Graham, said the state is imposing an unfunded mandate on the county.

The state already pays half of the salaries of Superior Court judges. It also pays for judges’ healthcare benefits.

“The money we saved from eliminating that seat has already been used on other needs in Superior Court,” Bush said. “At this point, it will be a struggle to fund a 22nd judge.”

You can read the council’s full statement below.

Feb. 5, 2010

If Pierce County must reinstate its 22nd Superior Court judge, the County Council believes the state of Washington should help cover the cost.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna today issued an opinion against the council’s decision last fall to eliminate former Judge Michael Hecht’s vacant seat to save money in the 2009 and 2010 county budgets. The carefully worded, six-page opinion narrowly concludes that only the state legislature can set the number of judges in each county’s superior court, but its length acknowledges the complexity of the issue and it states that the council used “thoughtful analysis” in making its case.

“I’m glad that the attorney general took such care in considering this difficult issue,” Council Chair Roger Bush said. “Even though he ultimately decided against us, I don’t think the door is closed to us receiving some help from the state as we try to fill our budgetary obligations.”

By requiring that Superior Court return to 22 judges, Bush said the state is imposing an unfunded mandate on the county.

“The money we saved from eliminating that seat has already been used on other needs in Superior Court,” Bush said. “At this point, it will be a struggle to fund a 22nd judge.”

In the meantime, the council will begin working with Superior Court to reinstate the 22nd judgeship while continuing to seek long-sought data from the court on its performance in managing felony cases.

CONTACT: Brad Chatfield, Council Communications Manager, 253-798-6626

Leave a comment Comments → 11
  1. Drek2305 says:

    Ha! Let’s see the council try to blow this off.

  2. LibertyBell says:

    What a bunch of Clown’s, there as stupid as Hecth himself.

    What they ought to do is elimanate the County Council, the biggest waste of money ever invented.

  3. My God, ROGER, get a clue! The Court is backlogged as it is. With the loss of this seat, the situation can only get worse. If the State has a history of paying 50% of the Judges salaries pluc insurance, then that’s surely what they will do with the incoming Judge.
    YOU’RE just ticked because you had that “xtra” money earmarked for a pet project or two! C’mon, Roger. We’re not quite THAT stupid. We can always see through BS. When it’s dealt out in such minor doses.

  4. bigbarb43 says:

    Hey..how about we get rid of El Supremo Bush and use his pay as part of a new judges pay.

  5. jiminycricket says:

    I’m looking at the Pierce County Council and I cannot tell who is who. With so much egg on each and every face it’s difficult to tell one from another! This opinion handed down from AG McKenna is an absolute “I told you so” to the council. Chairman Roger Bush has repeatedly tried to sell this ill fated, pea brained move as a money saving tactic and it’s turned out to be a complete and utter disaster. Not only has he and his associates on the council wasted valuable taxpayer time and resources, but they have gone on to also waste valuable taxpayer time and resources in the county prosecutor’s office, Pierce County superior court, the county excutive’s office and now the attorney General’s office. And why did this happen? Roger Bush would have you, I and everyone else believe that it was to try and save money. He and the other council members could have saved money in a number of different ways i.e. eliminate county polling venues. They were advised to do so by two former County Auditors (Shabro & McCarthy), as well as the current one (Anderson). But no way and no how! This council wouldn’t hear of it! They would have you believe it’s all about the money, but the real reason is something that they would never admit to. Over their dead bodies would they ever do anything to cooperate with County Executive Pat McCarthy! This is absolute pettiness and smallness at its worse and it’s taking place right underneath our very eyes in our county government. Yes, this is our government and we’re allowing these council members to represent us. When each of these council members were elected and took the oath of office, they swore that they would represent us to the best of their abilities. Instead of conducting the people’s business i.e. handling vital public safety issues, they have instead resorted to filthy, ugly, back-biting politics! They knew when they voted to override the executive’s veto that this would come back on them. They even said that the veto was illegal because it wasn’t signed. They said that they were within their legal right to do this based on advice from their own legal council. I’d sure like to know what mail order university their lawyer got his/her law degree from?

    And now I’ve read that Shawn Bunney has announced his candidacy for state representative, since, because of term limits, he cannot run for re-election to the county council. It’s all one big merry-go-round! Just the same ol’ pool of people: “oh gee whiz, I can’t run for this office anymore because of term limits, I better find another office to run for, otherwise I’ll be forced to get a real job.”

    This is the mentalilty, and unfortunately, we, the electorate keep falling for it! This current council is proof positive, that one “reaps” what they “sew.”

    “Houston, we’ve got a problem.” uh, er, “Citizens of Pierce County, we’ve got a problem.” Never fear though, Council Member Roger Bush was just re-elected by his peers on the council to serve as chairman. “whew!”

  6. enotrams says:

    Wow, another big surprise! Roger Bush and his cronies got it wrong. Again!

    The pompous Bush now accuses the state of creating an unfunded mandate. BS! Who exactly eliminated the funding for this judge’s seat Mr. Bush? Bush and his cronies were the one’s who unfunded a mandate of the people, a mandate that is set in state law! Apparently Bush isn’t able to comprehend the law.

    Hasn’t Pierce County had enough of elected officials who think that they can just ignore state laws?


  7. ldozy1234 says:

    If the Council and Exec.stops the duplication of property inspections from Assessors and this special PALS project, there’s $400,000.00 being wasted from the budget ready to go towards the judge position.

  8. norse1943 says:

    How much time and money has been wasted over this issue. Anyone knows that State law takes precedent over local laws. What brilliant people we have on the county council!

  9. Sounds like the majority rules in the peanut gallery on this issue. I agree with all of the above.

    How hard would it have been to check the laws and figure out if they could legally do away with the judge’s seat BEFORE they voted to do it. Sounds like the were advised it was wrong and went ahead anyhow. Follow the laws. It’s just that simple.

    As far as the “merrry-go-round” someone above mentioned…..VOTE THEM OUT! Quit putting the same ding-dongs in again and again.

    This country is quickly changing to one where voters are waking up and taking charge to try and bring good people into our government to lead us–all the way from the bottom to the top….remember Brown!

  10. Rob McKenna’s opinion just another lawyer’s opinion. He’s entitled to his opinions, but the county counsel has their own lawyers and their opinions differ from McKenna’s. Regardless of what the state’s head lawyer-bureaucrat says though, there is no way to force the council to fund the position. Hang in there, Roger Bush!

  11. Shame on the Pierce County Council for being ignorant of the laws. You do not make decision without first checking the laws, that is the democratic way of doing business. I sure hope that the Pierce County Council does not become a tolitarian Council whereby they can make decision ignoring the State and Federal laws. I do hope that when this people are elected to office that they read the laws and understand what their job is which is not to exceed the State Laws. Shame on the Pierce County Council. maybe it is time to awaken them and replace them as are the politicians in Washington D.C. who feel theyare above the law.

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