Commissioners receive judge position update

Clallam County Superior Court experienced a 161-percent increase in jury trials for the first six months of 2008 compared to the same time frame in 2007.

The court also had a 20-percent increase in judgments and sentences.

The numbers were presented to the Clallam County commissioners to show what adding a third Superior Court judge has done to the system.

"Something that is not shown in the numbers is that Judge (George) Wood was out for a couple of weeks, but cases continued to move through the system," said court administrator Lindy Clevenger, indicating one case going back to 2003 recently was finished. "Civil cases are beginning to have realistic trial dates."

She said the judges are mak-ing serious headway into what once was deemed a three-year backlog of cases, adding that there is more work to be done.

County administrator Jim Jones said the new judge position is doing exactly what it was supposed to do, increase the number of completed cases, adding that there were unforeseen financial consequences.

"The increase in the number of jury trials is the most significant," Jones said. "Not only for the backlog in cases but for budgetary impacts as well."

Jones said due to the increase in jury trials, the court has used up nearly 95 percent of its budgeted jury trial funds for the year and expects an emergency budget request to come from the department in October.

"I'd say there will be a request for about $15,000 to $20,000 to deal with the rest of the year," Jones said. "We are going to look carefully at these numbers as we plan for 2009."

Courthouse parking has been impacted as well. Both Jones and Clevenger said there always has been an availability problem but that the situation can be exacerbated by two, or possibly three, jury trials occurring simultaneously.

"We bring in about 45 jurors for each trial, which can cause a lot of cars coming at the same time," Clevenger said.

Jones said he has been working with the city to realign East Fourth Street in order to get diagonal parking, rather than parallel parking, spaces. He also indicated there is a less popular option of tearing up grass near the old courthouse at the corner of Fourth and Lincoln streets for parking.

"We wouldn't look into that until it's a last resort," Jones said.

The third judge position was added last year by the commissioners and was filled through election by Judge Brooke Taylor. The term was for only one year and now Taylor joins judges Wood and Ken Williams on the 2008 ballot unopposed for re-election to four-year terms.

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