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Sequim looks at a municipal court

Today, if Sequim residents want to get out of a traffic violation, it means having to haul themselves over to

Clallam County District Court in Port Angeles. However,

Sequim officials are hoping that by 2008 the city will have its own municipal court, making it more convenient for residents as well as Sequim staff.

Currently, a district judge comes to Sequim occasionally to handle infraction mitigation hearings only. Infraction mitigation hearings are, for example, when the accused want their sentences reduced rather than thrown out completely. Besides this, residents, prosecutors, Sequim police officers and witnesses are currently made to go to Port Angeles for just about everything else regarding their local judicial system. According to Sequim's attorney, Craig Ritchie, Sequim is one of three jurisdictions that comes before the Clallam County Court, each of which has some 20 cases to get through. This means often people are stuck in Port Angeles an entire day before their case is even heard.

Not only does the process take up a huge amount of time, but it can prove very inefficient cost-wise, especially in regard to Sequim Police officers, who are usually paid overtime for their presence in the courtroom.

In 2008, Sequim's city council gave the go ahead to create a municipal court of its own in an effort to reduce congestion, save time and congestion in the district court.

"It would make my job a lot easier if I didn't have to be in court in Port Angeles two days a week," admitted Ritchie, speaking to the council during its Monday, Dec. 10, meeting. "As cities grow they're often doing this because it's a service to the citizens.

The actual cost benefits, though, Ritchie calls "basically a wash." According to Ritchie the majority of revenue garnered from fines and penalties goes to the county and a municipal court won't change that percentage, but it will mean less overtime incurred by police officers. At the same time, however, Sequim suddenly would be responsible for employing its own part-time district court judge, so in the end the municipal court's creation would have the city coming out even at best.

The new court, Ritchie says, also would coincide with the state's plan to introduce a new case management system by 2009. If the municipal court is created before the new case management system is introduced, Sequim will be able to receive the new software at no cost. The current system Ritchie calls slow and incompatible, and jokes that, "it looks like something from the 1980s."

Although the city council gave the go ahead to the court's creation, it's now a matter of receiving approval from the county and state.

"A great deal of work re-mains to be done. We have requested a 'checklist' from the Washington State Administration for the Court. I understand that this checklist contains a number of questions which cities should answer before forming municipal courts, and a number of 'must-dos,'" wrote Ritchie in a status report he'd prepared for the council's benefit.

Ritchie says, though, that should it wish to, the council may at any point reverse its 2008 decision to pursue the municipal court's creation.

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