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.