General Rule 29 PRESIDING JUDGE IN SUPERIOR COURT DISTRICT AND LIMITED JURISDICTION COURT DISTRICT (a) Election, Term, Vacancies, Removal and Selection Criteria - Multiple Judge Courts. (1) Election. Each superior court district and each limited jurisdiction court district (including municipalities operating municipal courts) having more than one judge shall establish a procedure, by local court rule, for election, by the judges of the district, of a Presiding Judge, who shall supervise the judicial business of the district. In the same manner, the judges shall elect an Assistant Presiding Judge of the district who shall serve as Acting Presiding Judge during the absence or upon the request of the Presiding Judge and who shall perform such further duties as the Presiding Judge, the Executive Committee, if any, or the majority of the judges shall direct. If the judges of a district fail or refuse to elect a Presiding Judge, the Supreme Court shall appoint the Presiding Judge and Assistant Presiding Judge. (2) Term. The Presiding Judge shall be elected for a term of not less than two years, subject to reelection. The term of the Presiding Judge shall commence on January 1 of the year in which the Presiding Judge's term begins. (3) Vacancies. Interim vacancies of the office of Presiding Judge or Acting Presiding Judge shall be filled as provided in the local court rule in (a)(1). (4) Removal. The Presiding Judge may be removed by a majority vote of the judges of the district unless otherwise provided by local court rule. (5) Selection Criteria. Selection of a Presiding Judge should be based on the judge's 1) management and administrative ability, 2) interest in serving in the position, 3) experience and familiarity with a variety of trial court assignments, and 4) ability to motivate and educate other judicial officers and court personnel. A Presiding Judge must have at least four years of experience as a judge, unless this requirement is waived by a majority vote of the judges of the court. Commentary It is the view of the committee that the selection and duties of a presiding judge should be enumerated in a court rule rather than in a statute. It is also our view that one rule should apply to all levels of court and include single judge courts. Therefore, the rule should be a GR (General Rule). The proposed rule addresses the process of selection/removal of a presiding judge and an executive committee. It was the intent of the committee to provide some flexibility to local courts wherein they could establish, by local rule, a removal process. Additionally, by delineating the selection criteria for the presiding judge, the committee intends that a rotational system of selecting a presiding judge is not advisable. (b) Selection and Term - Single Judge Courts. In court districts or municipalities having only one judge, that judge shall serve as the Presiding Judge for the judge's term of office. (c) Notification of Chief Justice. The Presiding Judge so elected shall send notice of the election of the Presiding Judge and Assistant Presiding Judge to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court within 30 days of election. (d) Caseload Adjustment. To the extent possible, the judicial caseload should be adjusted to provide the Presiding Judge with sufficient time and resources to devote to the management and administrative duties of the office. Commentary Whether caseload adjustments need to be made depends on the size and workload of the court. A recognition of the additional duties of the Presiding Judge by some workload adjustment should be made by larger courts. For example, the Presiding Judge could be assigned a smaller share of civil cases or a block of time every week could be set aside with no cases scheduled so the Presiding Judge could attend to administrative matters. (e) General Responsibilities. The Presiding Judge is responsible for leading the management and administration of the court's business, recommending policies and procedures that improve the court's effectiveness, and allocating resources in a way that maximizes the court's ability to resolve disputes fairly and expeditiously. (f) Duties and Authority. The judicial and administrative duties set forth in this rule cannot be delegated to persons in either the legislative or executive branches of government. A Presiding Judge may delegate the performance of ministerial duties to court employees; however, it is still the Presiding Judge's responsibility to ensure they are performed in accordance with this rule. In addition to exercising general administrative supervision over the court, except those duties assigned to clerks of the superior court pursuant to law, the Presiding Judge shall: (1) Supervise the business of the judicial district and judicial officers in such manner as to ensure the expeditious and efficient processing of all cases and equitable distribution of the workload among judicial officers; (2) Assign judicial officers to hear cases pursuant to statute or rule. The court may establish general policies governing the assignment of judges; (3) Coordinate judicial officers' vacations, attendance at education programs, and similar matters; (4) Develop and coordinate statistical and management information; (5) Supervise the daily operation of the court including: (a) All personnel assigned to perform court functions; and (b) All personnel employed under the judicial branch of government, including but not limited to working conditions, hiring, discipline, and termination decisions except wages, or benefits directly related to wages; and (c) The court administrator, or equivalent employee, who shall report directly to the Presiding Judge. Commentary The trial courts must maintain control of the working conditions for their employees. For some courts this includes control over some wage-related benefits such as vacation time. While the executive branch maintains control of wage issues, the courts must assert their control in all other areas of employee relations. With respect to the function of the court clerk, generally the courts of limited jurisdiction have direct responsibility for the administration of their clerk's office as well as the supervision of the court clerks who work in the courtroom. In the superior courts, the clerk's office may be under the direction of a separate elected official or someone appointed by the local judges or local legislative or executive authority. In those cases where the superior court is not responsible for the management of the clerk's office, the presiding judge should communicate to the county clerk any concerns regarding the performance of statutory court duties by county clerk personnel. A model job description, including qualification and experience criteria, for the court administrator position shall be established by the Board for Judicial Administration. A model job description that generally describes the knowledge, skills, and abilities of a court administrator would provide guidance to Presiding Judges in modifying current job duties/responsibilities or for courts initially hiring a court administrator or replacing a court administrator. (6) Supervise the court's accounts and auditing the procurement and disbursement of appropriations and preparation of the judicial district's annual budget request; (7) Appoint standing and special committees of judicial officers necessary for the proper performance of the duties of the judicial district; (8) Promulgate local rules as a majority of the judges may approve or as the Supreme Court shall direct; (9) Supervise the preparation and filing of reports required by statute and court rule; (10) Act as the official spokesperson for the court in all matters with the executive or legislative branches of state and local government and the community unless the Presiding Judge shall designate another judge to serve in this capacity; Commentary This provision recognizes the Presiding Judge as the official spokesperson for the court. It is not the intent of this provision to preclude other judges from speaking to community groups or executive or legislative branches of state or local government. (11) Preside at meetings of the judicial officers of the district; (12) Determine the qualifications of and establish a training program for pro tem judges and pro tem court commissioners; and (13) Perform other duties as may be assigned by statute or court rule. Commentary The proposed rule also addresses the duties and general responsibilities of the presiding judge. The language in subsection (d), (e), (f) and (g) was intended to be broad in order that the presiding judge may carry out his/her responsibilities. There has been some comment that individual courts should have the ability to change the "duties and general responsibilities" subsections by local rule. While our committee has not had an opportunity to discuss this fully, this approach has a number of difficulties: . It would create many "Presiding Judge Rules" all of which are different. . It could subject some municipal and district court judges to pressure from their executive and/or legislative authority to relinquish authority over areas such as budget and personnel. . It would impede the ability of the BJA through AOC to offer consistent training to incoming presiding judges. The Unified Family Court subgroup of the Domestic Relations Committee suggested the presiding judge is given specific authority to appoint judges to the family court for long periods of time. Again the committee has not addressed the proposal; however, subsections (e) and (f) do give the presiding judge broad powers to manage the judicial resources of the court, including the assignment of judges to various departments. (g) Executive Committee. The judges of a court may elect an executive committee consisting of other judicial officers in the court to advise the Presiding Judge. By local rule, the judges may provide that any or all of the responsibilities of the Presiding Judge be shared with the Executive Committee and may establish additional functions and responsibilities of the Executive Committee. Commentary Subsection (g) provides an option for an executive committee if the presiding judge and/or other members of the bench want an executive committee. (h) Oversight of judicial officers. It shall be the duty of the Presiding Judge to supervise judicial officers to the extent necessary to ensure the timely and efficient processing of cases. The Presiding Judge shall have the authority to address a judicial officer's failure to perform judicial duties and to propose remedial action. If remedial action is not successful, the Presiding Judge shall notify the Commission on Judicial Conduct of a judge's substantial failure to perform judicial duties, which includes habitual neglect of duty or persistent refusal to carry out assignments or directives made by the Presiding Judge, as authorized by this rule. (i) Multiple Court Districts. In counties that have multiple court districts, the judges may, by majority vote of each court, elect to conduct the judicial business collectively under the provisions of this rule. (j) Multiple Court Level Agreement. The judges of the superior, district, and municipal courts or any combination thereof in a superior court judicial district may, by majority vote of each court, elect to conduct the judicial business collectively under the provisions of this rule. (k) Employment Contracts. A part-time judicial officer may contract with a municipal or county authority for salary and benefits. The employment contract shall not contain provisions which conflict with this rule, the Code of Judicial Conduct or statutory judicial authority, or which would create an impropriety or the appearance of impropriety concerning the judge's activities. The employment contract should acknowledge the court is a part of an independent branch of government and that the judicial officer or court employees are bound to act in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Washington State Court rules. [Adopted effective April 30, 2002; amended effective May 5, 2009.]
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