Problem Definition Work Group
Members in attendance:
Welcome and Introductions
The meeting was called to order and introductions were made. Ms. Michels advised that Justice Tom Chambers, Mr. Kirk Johns, and Mr. Matt Fairbank would be speaking to the committee today.
A draft copy of the work group’s report was distributed—it is currently a compilation of all materials received from the committee members.
Overview of the Cost of Trial Court Functions
Mr. Johns gave a quick overview of this subject. He began by saying that Washington is out of sync with the national average. Fifteen percent of this state’s general fund is allocated to the courts; the local share is 85 percent. The national average is a state contribution of 45percent and local government contribution of 55 percent.
This information is from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report on how the criminal justice system is funded. Washington State is 50th out of 50 states for state support of the trial courts and legal services. These numbers represent state funding for the courts and legal services which includes indigent defense and prosecution.
Mr. Johns provided additional information about court funding and revenues, although it is still in a draft form, he offered to provide this information to the committee when it is finalized if they would find it useful.
Dispute Resolution Centers
Mr. Matt Fairbank, Executive Director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima and Kittitas Counties (DRC) gave a power point presentation about the DRCs in the state and their impact on the Washington State Court System.
As background, DRCs were authorized under RCW 7.75 originally in 1984 as part of the Court Improvement Act. Funding from the District Court filing fee was added in 1990 (this is approximately one-half of their funding). DRCs are authorized in 20 of Washington’s 39 counties; their services are confidential, voluntary and offered to clients regardless of ability to pay. They offer face-to-face mediation, telephone mediation, case intake and development, and they also refer clients to other resources.
In 2002, Resolution Washington member DRCs assisted in 16,974 cases, mediating more than half of them. Thirty-seven percent of all non-small claims court cases are family-related cases which reduces the caseload of contested cases in Superior Court. Currently there is no filing fee mechanism that exists to support the DRCs’ positive impact on Superior Court.
Discussion about DRCs followed the presentation. It was noted that many of the cases filed in district court are done so by poorer individuals who end up shouldering the burden of the DRCs with their filing fees. It was also suggested that an additional section might be added to the report addressing additional fees to support dispute resolution.
The committee strategy regarding DRCs will be to add a section to the report that talks about how much the user fees can bear; and there is a need for an alternative funding source that’s adequate and stable. It should also be acknowledged that there needs to be a balance between district and superior court access—equalizing the fees.
Civil Equal Justice Task Force
Justice Tom Chambers spoke about the Civil Equal Justice Task Force, which was created by Supreme Court order. He began by reminding the committee that it is incumbent on the judicial branch to provide adequate access to the courts for everyone. “Unless we have equal justice for all, we don’t have justice at all.”
The Task Force has been divided into three subcommittees. The first is chaired by Judge Mary Kay Becker and is concentrating on a study that has been done by Washington State University, which was supervised by Portland State University (who conducted a similar study a few years ago for Oregon). The Legislature wants data, not anecdotal information. It is also important for the Supreme Court to have this data. The data is currently being interpreted. The data show that two-thirds of the households that are at poverty level are headed by women; the needs of the households include lawyers, domestic violence assistance, child support, housing, and medical care, just to name a few.
The second subcommittee of the Task Force, chaired by Judge Marlin Appelwick, is an Oversight Committee to administer funds, assuming they are able to identify a source of funding. Justice Chambers noted that poor people have no ‘natural’ lobbyists or organizations to go to the legislature. It is up to the judicial branch to take care of this. To address this, the committee looked at three options (locations) for overseeing and administering the funds; one was with the Office of Public Defense, one was with the Legal Foundation, and the last was an oversight committee with the Administrative Office of the Courts. The last option was the one chosen by Judge Appelwick’s committee.
The third subcommittee of the Task Force, chaired by Justice Chambers, has the task of finding the money. This subcommittee was responsible for the filing fee increase proposal that went to the legislature this session. The proposal increases the superior court filing fee to $200 and allocates 54 percent of the additional $90 to the counties and legal services will receive 46 percent of the increase. Justice Chambers stressed that this is not the final solution; other avenues of funding need to be found.
The work group was reminded that their charge is only to define the problem(s), other work groups will looking for funding alternatives and implementation strategies.
The implementation of the problems this group defines will happen over a long period of time, an implementation team will look alternatives to the list of problems each year, see what is realistic to take to the legislature that year, the next year, etc.
Civil Legal Services
The group discussed whether it is a core responsibility of the trial courts to ensure adequate funding for civil legal services. It was generally agreed that this is not a core part of the trial court funding but is an important part of judicial branch funding.
How do we deal with the gap of expense vs. revenue? How do we find it and how do we deal with it? We need to define a baseline level of funding necessary to apply to the courts.
Funding authorities see limited jurisdiction courts as revenue sources; and courts have been forced to buy in to this, so they can fund programs they need.
Counties are losing their ability to fund the state courts.
Try to project future funding needs, using the expenditure data for the courts in 2000 (adjusting for inflation). Municipal court data is not being examined at this time.
Ms. Michels and Mr. Amram will work on scaling the almost 50-page report down to a more manageable size.
Topics/Materials for Next Meeting
Mr. Glenn Olson will be invited to speak on the history of funding.
Future Meeting Dates
The next meeting dates and locations are:
Thursday, May 1
Thursday, May 15
|Courts | Organizations | News | Opinions | Rules | Forms | Directory | Library|
|Back to Top | Privacy and Disclaimer Notices|