Courts of Limited Jurisdiction –
October 3, 2003
Members: Co-Chair Judge Ann Schindler; Co-Chair Ron Ward; Justice Susan Owens; Judge Sara Derr; Judge Wesley Saint Clair; Judge Stephen Holman; Judge Robert McSeveney; Judge David Edwards; Judge Susan Woodard; Diane Carlson; Mike Kenyon; Glenda Ward; Joan Ferebee; Ann Danieli; Tricia Crozier; Pam Springer and Jim Pearman
Guests: Wayne Blair (Court Funding Task Force Chair); Jinnah Rose-McFadden (Senate Judiciary Counsel); Mike Doubleday (Attorney); Douglas Somerlot (Justice Management Institute)
AOC Staff: Mary McQueen; Janet McLane; Doug Haake; Jean Ann Quinn and Jennifer O’Hern
Seattle P.I. Article, “Thousands lack lawyers in crucial court hearings,” Monday, July 21, 2003
Co-Chair Ron Ward welcomed everyone at 10:05 AM.
Co-Chair Judge Ann Schindler asked for any changes to the minutes of the July 31 meeting. Hearing none, minutes were approved.
Status of other Court Funding Task Force Work Groups
Wayne Blair gave an overview of the topics being discussed at other work group meetings, including mandated (by the state) trial court functions. He also summarized the results of the AOC survey to assess actual expenditures of courts of limited jurisdiction. For 2000,
COMMON PRINCIPLES FOR COURTS OF LIMITED JURISDICTION
Judge Schindler read through the suggested common principles for CLJs and asked members to comment and give their perspectives.
Judge Edwards agreed with the statements and especially liked the last principle, “the primary mission of the courts of limited jurisdiction is to expeditiously, efficiently, and fairly resolve cases and serve the residents of the community, not to collect monetary penalties, fees and fines.”
Diane Carlson said that while she agreed with the first part of the last principle, the second clause “. . . . not to collect . . .” makes it a negative sentence and should be changed. She added that most people don’t think that the courts’ current primary focus IS to collect money.
Judge Edwards added that even though citizens may think that collecting money should NOT be the courts’ primary function, that’s what they see us DO. It undercuts our credibility and we need to counteract that perception.
Other members noted that courts DO collect money as part of assuring that court orders are enforced. Mike Kenyon stated that a fine/fee is imposed to help pay for court. It defrays the cost of administering the court. Deanna Dawson expressed the view that even though courts generate some revenue, it should be considered a byproduct of their primary function. She noted a parallel with parks and recreation activities which also generate revenue but not as an essential part of their mission. Another member noted that courts seem to be a very expensive mechanism for collecting revenue, given labor costs.
Judge McSeveney said that the statutes (Title 3) are clear. If you are a city, you have to pay for everything, but there are no statutes that say courts have to collect fines. There is no mandate for a court to make sure that the money is paid, but there are cities that look to the judge to make sure the revenue is collected.
Doug Haake offered the court activity of issuing a warrant as a parallel: While a judge issues a warrant, the executive is responsible for enforcing that warrant, but when a fine is imposed by a judge, there is a different expectation that courts are responsible for collecting/enforcing that fine/fee, and that the courts budget is dependent on the court’s success in collecting. Doug added that a potential appearance of conflict of interest is raised when a judge imposes a fine/fee and then is tasked with collecting it too. Citizens may believe that the court has a self-serving interest in seeing that people pay fines.
Mike Kenyon asked if the courts would prefer to have city finance departments collect/enforce the money to be paid by defendants. Judge Saint Clair noted that in King County a collections clerk in the executive branch performs this role now. Several agreed that collections is most appropriately an executive branch function.
1. After extensive discussion regarding separating the sentence so that the funding section is addressed separately, Co-Chair Ron Ward agreed with Judge Sara Derr’s suggestion of rewording the sentence to say, “the primary function of the courts of limited jurisdiction . . ., not revenue generation and collection.” While courts may have a revenue receiving role to play, many members agreed that a fundamental principle of the work group should be that this is not part of the courts’ primary mission.
Linda Bell agreed and added that in her experience at city budget meetings, city leaders always ask the court “where the money will come from” when the court requests extra staff or additional money in its budget; every request is tied to the amount of revenue that has been collected by the courts.
Wayne Blair voiced his view that that this principle is emerging as fundamental to some of the other work groups as well; the concept of revenue generation being secondary to the primary mission of courts should be clearly stated. Ron Ward asked that the last principle be modified to read, “The primary function of the courts of limited jurisdiction is to expeditiously, efficiently and fairly resolve cases and serve the residents of the community, not revenue generation and collection.”
Judge Schindler led the group through the implementation concepts and asked for comments/discussion regarding same.
It was suggested that concept #1 be moved to #6 (last) since it is technical in nature.
Judge Holman commented on concept #2 (all judges should be elected). He said that in the past, he surveyed some part time municipal court judges and found that most of them would not run for election because many would be paid less salary than the cost of the election filing fee.
Ron Ward agreed this might be the case, and while there might be adverse implications for very part time judges, the concept is important to reinforce the need for an independent Judiciary.
Mike Kenyon stated that election doesn’t necessarily guarantee independence or a “good judge.” He added that having an elected part time judge as the only option would be threatening to a city.
Retired Judge Wilson noted that the proposal to elect all judges has historically been viewed by cities as a “loss of control” problem.
Judge McSeveney said that although the statute requires full time judges to be elected, some aren’t compensated as full time. He has been both an elected and appointed judge. As an elected judge, he feels free from any constraints to exercise independent judgments without worrying about whether he will be reappointed by city officials.
While there is national debate about the advantages of appointed judges vs elected ones, Wayne Blair noted that citizens in Washington have repeatedly indicated they want to elect their judges. He asked, “why shouldn’t judges be elected?” Are there specific reasons cities would feel threatened by this?.
Jim Pearman, stated his view that the “quality” of judges is the issue and that in his experience, cities don’t want to control the judges, but they do want to control the costs of the courthouse. He noted that the judicial conduct commission indicates that conduct problems are especially apt to arise during judicial campaigns. He also cited the financial burden that would be placed on judicial candidates who would have to raise money to run for election. He made a distinction between elected decision makers like council members who are compensated by their personal employment, and a judge who is highly paid by the city.
Ron Ward questioned why there is a difference between a part time elected mayor or city councilmen, and a part time judge in a city. The assurance that a judge will be free to exercise independence in all court matters is the basis for requiring election of judges.
Members noted this issue could be a difficult political issue. Mike Kenyon said that only cities with a “strong mayor” form of city government have elected mayors – others use an appointed city manager as the chief executive officer. In these cities, the elected mayor is an administrative figure head, and the appointed manager is the real decision maker.
Ron Ward added that this group is not a political body; as difficult as this question may be, we need to arrive at a solution that offers the greatest potential for assuring independence of judges.
Judge Edwards agreed that while no model (appointed vs. elected) is absolutely perfect -election acts as a check, and offers insurance that the judge can act independently.
Deanna Dawson questioned why a city would reject the idea of an elected judge. There is little cost involved. In the city where she sits as a council person, the council recently heard from citizens that they do NOT prefer an appointed land use referee – they prefer having an elected official make the tough decisions for the city and its residents. Judge Schindler moved the group to the last couple of concepts. In concept #4, it states that “costs for court operations that are provided by another government, should be calculated based on the amount of resources used.” This principle reflects the concept that governments should not be profiting from a contract arrangement – rather it should facilitate the delivery of court services so that the public benefits.
Diane Carlson said that this might seem desirable, but there may be a situation when another city may want to start their own court and have another court provide services. That court may be willing to pay more (instead of only the cost of use) to get that other court to do so. Cities should be able to negotiate an arrangement that works for them.
Linda Bell added that it would be hard to distinguish costs of one court versus another court. It would be hard to come up with one formula approach that would work.
Judge Wilson emphasized that the operative word is “use.” Contracts now are based on subjective services. How they define “cost” is hard. What is the service and how is it being used?
Mike Kenyon stated that RCW 3.46 contains a useful formula; however there is a practical problem of getting the expenditure data from county and city governments to put into the formula.
Judge Saint Clair stated that there should be a mechanism to get contract parties to agree on a process and formula. As it is now, “marginal costs,” “fully loaded costs” and other considerations that are hard to pin down drive the process. Judges and court personnel should be assisting with the contract provisions because they know the actual impact of court use.
Judge Schindler moved the group to explore concept #6, “Provision should be made for concurrent jurisdiction between municipal court and district court.” Judge Holman noted that he is a proponent for concurrent jurisdiction. Municipal and district should be the same jurisdiction and we should distance ourselves from the money part.
Justice Owens asked why concurrent jurisdiction should be an “option.”
Ron Ward responded that the initial notion was that one model may not fit all, but also to emphasize the concept that if a community opts to create a municipal court, it should have the same subject matter jurisdiction and offer the same services as a district court.Mike Kenyon stated that a financial analysis needs to be done, but customer service must be at the forefront. Cities want to provide complete services, but there may not be money to do so.
Judge Edwards added that we need to look at this from the point of view of the people we serve, but when costs start to outrun the profit, then it will be a problem in some cities.
Judge Wilson stated that historically, we have been faced with deciding on one or two trial court levels, but ended up with three levels. How can we clean up the CLJs? The assessment project completed in the late 90’’s acknowledged that municipal courts have an important role to play in the delivery of judicial services, provided that they are subject to the same statutes, rules, policies and procedures that apply to district courts. Courts should not have a choice about what rules they follow or what cases they hear.
Judge Saint Clair agreed that courts should not be allowed to opt out of statutory subject matter jurisdiction.
Judge McSeveney added that the public is best served if they can file civil cases and take care of other business at municipal court, as in a district court.
Judge Saint Clair suggested that municipal courts could be offered a three year “transition period” to gear up for the additional cases.
Wayne Blair queried whether a move to concurrent jurisdiction would alter the opposition expressed earlier to requiring the election of all judges.
Jim Pearman and Mike Kenyon answered no, that the two issues are not related in their view.
Concurrent jurisdiction might be a good idea, depending on the cost question, whether
judges are elected or appointed.
Warrants and DWLS Presentation
(See attached PowerPoint Handouts – Page 9 – 13)
Doug Haake confirmed that the “warrants” problem has been on the table for a long time and there have been many efforts to find solutions. Among them are:
WARRANTS PILOT PROJECT
Judge Saint Clair spoke to the success of the Warrants Pilot Project. This project was put together to deal with warrants across city boundary lines, and it allows cities in the program to quash other cities’ warrants under certain circumstances. There are still operating issues to work out, such as who pays for counsel, warrant fees (who collects and who keeps the fees - some counties have a “per warrant” fee, others are different). Currently, if a Superior Court defendant is in drug court, the judge can’t release that defendant after conditions are met, because that defendant may also have a DWLS warrant in another city. But, in the project, judges have latitude to make integrated decisions that work for the defendant.
Judge Sara Derr spoke about the License Restoration Program in her county. She said that they named their program “Community Relicensing,” which was only available in the city. They now have a combined city/county relicensing program which charges a $100 fee. They’re not quite there on success rates. Currently, there are 1,000 going through the program, but the program is not quite cost-neutral. About half fail and half succeed in the program, but overall we believe it still works, since there are fewer unlicensed individuals on the road. There is a $150,000 budget for this program. The program is operated as a diversion program out of the prosecutor’s office. The court brings a defendant’s charges out of collections and based on ability to pay, the courts set up a payment plan and helps the defendant with obtaining insurance. Defendants must continue to pay according to their payment plan and they are responsible for taking care of other debts, such as child support, etc. If they are successful, it helps the defendant financially and helps them keep their jobs. The program also offers some help with life skills classes, which are paid out of the program fee.
Judge Saint Clair said there are two relicensing programs in King County, one in the Seattle Municipal Court, and one in the King County District Court. The Seattle program is based on an impound model. Defendants with a suspended license are given a court date and upon appearance at the hearing, the offense is dismissed if they agree to make regular payments of the fines and penalties. They are given an option to work for $8.50 per hour to pay toward their fines.
The County’s program is a pre-trial diversion program administered by the Prosecutor’s Office. The Prosecutor gets a list of persons cited for DWLS and a copy of the ticket(s). They send a letter to the defendant offering the diversion program. Calendars occur twice per week and it takes an average of six months for a defendant in the program to complete the terms and conditions. Some of the terms offered are community service at $10 per hour, or $150 per day if they participate in a community work crew. When 10 percent of the fine is paid, the Court releases the hold on the defendant’s license. A community-based organization writes letters to those not participating according to the agreement. The system-wide savings result from: no warrants, no continuance hearings, and reduced prosecution and public defender costs (30 percent of those charged obtain counsel at the public’s expense). In the KCDC program, 5,700 cased were filed this year. Nineteen-hundred of those were successful. It may not seem like a big number, but 1900 cases that no longer “clog” the system is significant. If a defendant currently has other King County cases, they can transfer those cases to the relicensing court. There are still gaps for defendants who have both county and city cases, but KCDC is working on that issue.
WARRANT FESTS/AMNESTY PROGRAMS
As part of another Warrants Committee recommendation, Judge Steve Holman talked about successful efforts at “Warrant Fests” in Kitsap County. He stated that this program began with the prosecutor, in conjunction with law enforcement. The police from both county and city jurisdictions all agree on a day to go to homes (sometimes at 3AM they start knocking on doors) to enforce outstanding warrants. The courts clear their calendars for all those that are arrested. Defendants get a short hearing in front of a judge, and if they agree to pay $500, they are let go and their warrants are cleared. On the heels of that, the prosecutors send letters to warrant holders with DWLS, asking them to pay $300 to cover the costs of processing the warrant and case, and the warrant and other charges would be cleared. Most recently 200 people paid to clear warrants against them. This program works well to clear the backlog of outstanding warrants. However, there are concerns about the quality of the hearing that is held.
Doug Haake added that Skagit County has held a “Warrant Amnesty” program. The court publicized a day in court to clear any warrants. During the first program, a lot of defendants had their warrants cleared and they paid fines to collections. The second program had 100 courts involved, and they cleared warrants in more than just Skagit County courts and collected outstanding fines that would not have been paid otherwise.
Janet completed the presentation by stating that as cases have increased in the DWLS arena over the years, the following ideas for minimizing the impact of DWLS have arisen:
The group will meet next in September 2003. Date, time and location will be announced after e-mail consultation with other work groups.
Meeting adjourned at 2:05 PM.
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