Courts of Limited Jurisdiction –
Delivery of Services
Work Group Meeting
Wyndham Gardens Seatac Hotel
April 23, 2003
Members: Judge Ann Schindler, Co-Chair; Ron Ward, Co-Chair; Judge Sara Derr; Judge Wesley Saint Clair; Judge Stephen Holman; Judge Robert McSeveney; Judge Stephen Dwyer; Judge David Edwards; Pam Springer; Linda Bell; Mike Kenyon, Tricia Crozier; Joan Ferebee; Karen Reed and Jim Pearman
Guests: Jeffrey Jahns (Kitsap County Prosecutor); Kim Gordon (Defender Association); Margita Dornay (King County Prosecutor); Michael Weight (Snohomish County Prosecutor); Clifton Curry (King County Council); Patty Wheeler (DV advocate);
Sandra Shanahan (DV advocate); and Grace Huang (WA State Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
AOC Staff: Janet McLane; Doug Haake; and Jennifer O’Hern
- Questions for City Attorneys/Prosecutors
- Questions for Domestic Violence Advocates
- Core Mission of Courts of Limited Jurisdiction - DRAFT
- Common Principles for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction - DRAFT
- Overview of Justice Management Institute (JMI) Project
- Background information on The Justice Management Institute
Ron Ward commented on a frequent “theme” in the minutes of the March 19 meeting and the work group discussions – that of gross inadequacies in the personnel infrastructure supporting the courts. Without proper resources courts will continue to under serve communities, and the likelihood of a “solution” being imposed from outside the judicial branch of government will grow. While the needs of city and county governments must be met, an independent court system, one that finds solutions to its own problems, is imperative. Ron discussed the resolution of the “mega-muni/municipal department” bills that died in the legislative session this year, emphasizing his view that it is incumbent on the work group to find a workable response to this problem.
- Presentations from court user-group; City Attorneys/Prosecutors (Panel: Margita Dornay, Michael Weight and Jeffrey Jahns)
Describe your practice as it relates to district and municipal courts. Do you prosecute city ordinance violations in both courts? Same city in both courts, or different cities in different courts? Do you practice in multiple municipal and/or district courts? Relative court sizes?
- (Weight) Currently city attorney in Bothell, formerly Everett and Vancouver city prosecutor. In both Bothell and Everett, successful attempts have been made by the city to control costs in ways the district court was unable or unwilling to achieve, a notable example is structuring court calendars to minimize police overtime costs..
- (Dornay) Prosecuted limited jurisdiction cases for 13 years, currently in both contracted cities that file cases in district court and in independent municipal courts.
- (Jahns) Currently an attorney in the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s office. In Kitsap County, there are four district courts and three municipal courts. The county prosecutor’s office handles county matters and all municipal court cases, under contract with the cities.
Do resources of the respective jurisdictions impact your practice? Are there differences in services available in different jurisdictions? Are there differences in pressures to use/not use resources? Would prosecution of similar cases be treated differently in different jurisdictions?
- (Weight) Again, emphasized perception that the county district court is typically not willing to accommodate needs of cities, such as setting calendars so that the time of police officers and the city attorney is efficiently used. Also, the city has been able to implement unique programs, such as special night courts, to hold first appearances for arrested defendants in a timely way, avoiding costly jail time. The district court was not responsive to suggestions like this, and as result the city determined a municipal court should be formed
- (Dornay) The biggest factor in determining resource use turns on how well the courts work together with cities to implement procedures that are cost-effective. Some district courts are more receptive than others. Generally, municipal courts are more inclined to making changes that will contain costs than district court.
- (Jahns) Regarding costs, as prosecutors in the municipal courts we are sensitive to minimizing jail costs on city cases. Electronic home monitoring and other alternatives are used in both city and county cases. Similar plea offers, procedures, charging documents are used in both since county prosecutors appear on both county and city cases. Sentencing recommendations may sometimes reflect the desire of municipalities to contain costs, and sentencing practices do differ among the bench. Local rules and procedures help to bring jury costs down for the cities. We confirm juries the day before, and we don’t call a jury if not confirmed. As for probation services, district court has a probation department with professional probation staff, but the municipalities do not, so in cities probation is limited to monitoring compliance with conditions, rather than a more active approach. Some defendants need the structure and/or aggressive treatment monitoring that professional probation staff provide. Probation supervision in municipal courts would allow defendants there the same opportunity to correct their problems that defendants in district court receive. There is no prosecutor in district or municipal (?) contested infraction hearings, but prosecutors are present in city contested building code hearings, because these matters are very important to the cities.
Are there differences in basic forms, procedures, and application of law and court rules between courts? Access to needed information and files? Availability of court staff? Differences in standards or practice for appointment of defense counsel? Availability and use of interpreters or other extra-ordinary participants? Differences in ability to accommodate disabilities?
- (Weight) Everett and Bothell municipal courts may be different than most with regard to their caseload – there is more emphasis on criminal violations as opposed to infractions. Approximately 40 percent of the focus is on criminal and 60 percent is on infractions. Most cities aren’t out to make money, but they need to be cost-effective, reducing the number of times a case comes to court, reducing costs, etc.
- (Dornay) In the district courts in King County, prosecutor access to court files has been curtailed, and it’s difficult to obtain case information and schedule city matters. Prosecutors should be allowed access to the court clerk’s area. In the municipal courts, we have direct access to court files, and court staff are more receptive to the cities’ concerns. Making mutual decisions about efficiency is a common goal. In district court, city prosecutors are denied access to the files and are told we have to stand in line with the rest of the defendants and often times have to wait 25 minutes to get a file. Also, it has been our experience that district court judges are not as educated or interested in domestic violence cases.
- (Jahns) Regarding access to files, in both levels of the courts in Kitsap County, all attorneys are allowed back in the Clerk’s office, obtaining their own files and making copies as needed.
Work group members expressed concern about the expectation that either party should have direct physical access to the court’s files – that this occurrence would raise an appearance of fairness question if one side is allowed entry to the court’s file area and others do not have such access. This led to a discussion about what services municipalities expect from district court: City representatives noted the following as reasonable expectations from their perspective:
- calendars that scheduled to accommodate a particular city’s cases to achieve maximum efficient use of law enforcement, prosecutors;
- reasonable access to court clerks who will assist with scheduling, finding files, copying court documents;
- recognition of the need to control police overtime.
Both city and county representatives recognized that in King County budget reductions have played a direct role in reducing services provided by the district court to cities, and most agreed the Court is doing the best job possible with extreme staffing reductions. Judge Derr commented that King County problems are more critical right now than in the rest of the state. As an example, in Spokane the clerk’s office supports a service window for attorneys to meet their needs for case files and to accommodate their scheduling needs. This level of service requires adequate staff and should be the norm. In Spokane, the needs of the cities are accommodated.
Mr. Weight responded to these questions:
In your jurisdiction, are municipal judges elected?
- (Weight) In Everett, yes, both are elected. In Bothell, no. The judge is a part time judge, appointed by the manager, with approval by the city council.
Do you see any encroachments on the judges by the city?
- (Weight) Not aware of undue influence on the judge. However, it is appropriate for the city’s executive and enforcement branch to direct resources or philosophy toward the enforcement of laws they believe are most important for the jurisdiction. For instance, the city of Everett felt more need to focus on drug dealing and prostitution, so prosecutors typically make recommendations that jail time be given in these cases. The judge has the final decision on guilt or innocence, but the city should be able to decide which cases to concentrate resources on.
In the funding process, does the judge participate? Within that process, is there encroachment?
- (Weight) I’m sure the judge has input, though he is not at the table.
Are employees of the court city employees? Does the judge have authority over these employees?
- (Weight) The judge has quite a bit of input on HR issues. The Court Administrator works closely with the judge. Since it is a small court, there are not a lot of personnel issues.
Is the court a “full-service” court –what cases and services are handled?
- (Weight) Civil cases are not heard – domestic violence protection cases are not heard.
Effect on witnesses, etc. of multiple courts and locations? Is there confusion on the part of defendants about which court(s) they need to appear in?
- (Jahns) There is confusion regarding the municipal and district court combination. We are always explaining the difference between the county and city. It’s confusing for witnesses and defendants alike.
Judge Schindler asked the panel members the percentage of jury trials and what types they have in their courts?
- (Dornay) Not sure of the numbers on criminal, but a guess would be 40 – 50 percent DWLS, 20 percent DWI, and DV the rest. One to two jury trials are held per week. In Kirkland, there is a high jury trial percentage.
- (Jahns) Half of the cases are DV, and we bail forfeit on DWLS 3rd cases in Kitsap County District Court so they are essentially treated like infractions. In some counties DWLS 3rd is handled as a much serious case – often given jail time. DWLS is such a serious workload issue for courts that we have created an inequal justice situation as each court grapples with how to handle it. Work group members discussed various DWLS 3rd problems in their courts and their viewpoints about solutions. King County District Court and several municipalities in King County concentrate on relicensing driver’s who have lost their licenses as a result of failure to pay - they focus on providing services to the offender rather than the offense. DWLS 3rd is a significant problem and is a collateral consequence of increased fines and penalties such as recently enacted $10 increase in citation penalties. As fines increase, costs for warrants, bookings also increase. Court orders are increasingly disregarded because we can’t afford to enforce them. DWLS has created a huge receivable balance rather than a realistic collectible balance for courts. Resource disparity leads to disparate treatment between jurisdictions. Consideration should be given, again, to decriminalizing DWLS 3rd. Other keys to overcoming this problem might include enabling all outstanding obligations to be rolled into one consolidated payment that could be made in any court.
After a brief lunch break, the Work Group continued with presentations.
Presentation from court user-group; Domestic Violence Advocates (Panel: Patty Wheeler, Sandra Shanahan, Grace Huang )
What particular challenges do you face in navigating through the district courts? Municipal courts?
- (Wheeler- Spokane County YWCA), located with the Spokane Domestic Violence Team. We help with protection orders and civil orders. A primary concern is that there are inadequate victim services in rural communities.
- (Shanahan- supervisor Domestic Violence Protection unit in the King County Prosecutor’s Office) Our office assists with temporary and permanent protection orders.
- (Huang- Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence) Judicial training and judicial expertise is inconsistent between counties. There is an interpreter issue: victims are turned away, if no one is available - they are told to come back later when an interpreter is available. This is a major safety issue. Also, DV advocates are asked to interpret, which causes a conflict of interest. Also, another victim safety issue is there is a lack of knowledge (or not paying enough attention to the need) regarding logistics in the courtroom (making sure the victim doesn’t have to sit next to the perpetrator, and/or making sure there is security available in the court room because of volatility of some situations).
In your experience, is it clear in most communities which court(s) is available to receive protection petition filings?
- (Wheeler) Up until five years ago, DV protection orders were filed in superior court. Now there is a more integrated domestic violence approach; some filings go through the district court. We have created a “Domestic Violence Problem Solving Group” which meets quarterly to discuss issues. It works really well, in that we are able to solve a lot of problems that come up. Because there is often confusion about which court petitioners should go to, we have created a diagram which explains which court a petitioner should use, e.g. if they have kids, they need to go to Superior Court, if no kids, then they can go through the district court. It’s posted in the Clerk’s offices and the public safety building at the information booth.
In district and municipal courts, do you typically find that a judge is reasonably available to hear petitions for protection?
- (Wheeler) Domestic violence petitions are not accepted in municipal courts in Spokane County. Since those courts only hold court one to two times per month, it’s not feasible.
Does the concurrent jurisdiction of superior, district, and municipal courts to hear petitions for domestic protection increase public accessibility in these cases to the courts? Does it cause confusion?
- (Shanahan) If the court is open, people should be able to file cases during that time. Jurisdictional issues (superior vs. district) are a problem.
- (Huang) In rural communities, it is sometimes a long distance to the nearest district court, and municipal courts often don’t take DV cases.
What level of communication about court orders and other actions is there among limited jurisdiction courts?
- (Wheeler) District Court forms have recently been changed (eviction and custody issues are deleted from the form) because only Superior Court has authority over these issues). This is an attempt to reduce confusion about what a court can handle.
- (Huang) There is a lack of communication between courts. Court orders sometimes conflict within the same jurisdiction. Some courts refuse to hear ex parte, emergency petitions and tell petitioners to get a parenting plan first. In Adams County, petitioners must first file in district court even if the petition will be heard by superior court. The petition is stamped saying it was filed in district court, and then the petitioner is told to take it to superior court, instead of automatically transferring the case up when appropriate.
What would improve the service limited jurisdiction courts provide to advocates and their clients?
- (Wheeler) We need to increase victim safety in Spokane County. We need to have 24 hour access for protection orders. When officers can’t arrest in a criminal situation, we need a way for the victim to get an order on nights and weekends.
- (Shanahan) Training is needed – often clerks don’t understand how to screen domestic victims on whether they should get a DV Protection Order or an Anti-Harassment Order, and clerk’s staff sometimes aren’t sure where to send the final order. Also there is a lack of access for interpreters for non-English speaking victims in district court. Superior Court can arrange for interpreters, but with the budget cuts in King County District Court, it’s harder for people to contact the court to make sure where they should go to file. Also, we have a hard time getting through to a live person to make sure a judge is available.
- (Huang) The state Coalition Against Domestic Violence drafted a bill in the Legislature this year (HB 1949) which would have, if passed, expanded protection orders to include provisions for financial support. This issue will come up again next session. We also published a Domestic Violence Fatality Report, which can be found at www.wscadv.org.
- (Huang) Better communication between court levels. More judicial training is needed. More thought about physical safety in courthouses (proximity of victims to abusers). Increased phone and/or video access for judges to sign/agree to orders. Interpreters, since it is a state law obligation to have them available when needed.
- Active probation services to make sure respondents are following through on the provisions of the court order.
Ron Ward asked Ms. Shanahan and Ms. Wheeler about the lack of DV training for judicial officers and if they were speaking of judges at the district and/or superior court level(s).
(Wheeler) Our experience is that the district court has more of a criminal focus to domestic violence while the superior court focus is aimed more toward a problem solving family-oriented perspective. This sometimes results in district court judges being less inclined to sign protection orders unless physical abuse can be clearly shown. In these kinds of cases superior court judges might be more apt to see a potential problem even if the victim has not actually been struck by the perpetrator.
(Shanahan) Courts and judges who are especially interested in DV cases educate themselves. Having a special DV court enables judges to “grow’ in their understanding about these cases. Without such an emphasis there is inconsistent treatment of cases within the same court. Some judges can appreciate the devastating effect of fear and constant threats that petitioners experience while others only recognize the need for protection when there has been a pattern of escalating physical violence.
Judge Sara Derr mentioned that Spokane, Clark, Pierce and King Counties have special DV courts. They consolidate all types of cases in which domestic violence is a factor; all judges go to training and are familiar with the statutes. Even in these counties when a respondent has multiple orders arising from cases all over the state, law enforcement doesn’t always know which order should take priority, so every three to six months, the courts hold a session for law enforcement on questions they encountered about serving orders.
Judge Ann Schindler asked Ms. Huang if it would be good if victims could file in the municipal courts.
(Huang) Yes, since it becomes a safety and time issue if victims have to travel a longer distance to the nearest district court.
Janet McLane asked if municipal courts respond to petitioners that they do not have jurisdiction to hear protection cases, or if they simply aren’t open to help.
(Wheeler) There is simply no process or infrastructure in place in the municipal courts to receive a petition and get an order signed. Since many of these courts are part time, and especially since the judges are part time, they’re often not available to sign an order when needed.
Joan Ferebee stated that in her court and other municipals, they have contracts with a home DV advocate who can work with the victim when they come in, if that’s needed.
Common Principles for CLJs
The group reviewed a draft list of common principles behind Tab 6 of the notebook. The draft is intended to be a document in progress, to help members come to agreement about fundamental assumptions associated with courts of limited jurisdiction. Members suggested the following additional words and concepts to incorporate into the draft principles:
- Flexible in structure
- Enhanced public understanding
- Reflecting unique community values
- Innovative – new ways to meet the public
- Due process of law
Core Mission for CLJs
The work group looked at a draft list of court core missions (Tab 6) adapted from work done by the Problem Identification Work Group. The list is intended to define what functions are essential components of all limited jurisdiction courts; It should be considered a frame to use in constructing an model for delivering judicial services in courts of limited jurisdiction, and viewed as a discussion draft to build upon . Some discussion followed, with a suggestion that the frame should first start with those functions that are mandated by statute, court rule or other authority, separately adding other responsibilities or activities we have commonly come to expect in CLJ’s. Reference was made to other documents that identify core services - possibly from Project 2001 or the DMCJA Long Range Planning Committee that should be reviewed to continue work on this.
Janet McLane stated that AOC solicited a proposal from the Justice Management Institute (JMI) to develop a model(s) structure for courts of limited jurisdiction in Washington. The project will involve:
Janet suggested forming a small subcommittee of CLJ workgroup members to act as a steering committee to work with JMI.
- A comprehensive survey and interview of 40 – 50 courts to help define operational best practices, and structural constraints
- Collection of the budgets of each of the target courts to look at expenditure patterns, cost containment practices, gaps in service etc.
Topics/Materials for Future Meetings
- Continue presentations from court user-groups (defense lawyers, other bar groups, law enforcement, social service agencies, collection agencies, Department of Licensing)
- Caseloads of the CLJ; standards and practices, judicial resource estimates
- Other models for courts of limited jurisdiction
- Judicial Conduct Commission Presentation in June
- Continue formulation of common principles documentsNext Meeting Date and Time
The group agreed to meet next on May 28, 2003 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.