News

City pursuing municipal court

Sequim residents might not have to travel to Port Angeles to attend district court in the near future.

The city council has told Clallam County it wants a different district court arrangement -- either reduced fees or a satellite court similar to one in Forks - or it will set up its own municipal court.

The city council voted 4-1 at its Jan. 26 meeting to send the letter.

Councilor Erik Erichsen voted "no," and Councilor Ken Hays abstained. Councilor Bill Huizinga was absent.



Provides incentive

City Attorney Craig Ritchie said now that the letter is sent, the county has an incentive to negotiate the city's district court fees.

Earlier requests to negotiate were ignored because the city hadn't formally told the county it was pursuing a municipal court, he said.

Ritchie said instead of lower district court fees the county might agree to a satellite district court in a modified Transit Center using Forks Judge Erik Rohrer.



Now or 2013

In October, Ritchie told the councilors they have until Aug. 1 to make a decision on whether to set up a municipal court in 2011.

After doing more research, he discovered the deadline was Feb. 1, Ritchie said.

If the city doesn't start now to set up a municipal court in 2011, the next deadline is 2013 to start a court in 2015, he said.



Advantageous either way

The city's costs for a municipal court end up the same as the current district court costs, Ritchie said.

But a municipal court still could be advantageous to the city since the city's attorneys and police officers needn't travel out of town, he said.

But the county probably will want to negotiate some kind of satellite district court instead, Ritchie said.

It could provide more revenue with less expense for the county, he said.



Costs could be less

Ritchie said the city wouldn't need a probation department for a municipal court.

The city also could contract with a company such as Friendship Diversion for home monitoring and community service, he said.

Arraignments and first appearances could be done by video as they are in Forks, Ritchie said.

Trials where the person would have to be transported would only occur about once or twice a year, he said.

The required video systems are costing less and less, so the price might be $1,500 to $2,500 at the most, Ritchie said.

The city must pay for inmates to have video arraignments, but that costs about half of in-person arraignments because there's no rebooking fee, he said.



Councilors disagree

"We need to do this," said Councilor Paul McHugh.

Either a satellite court or a municipal court would be better for the city, but neither will happen unless the city sends the letter and forces the county to negotiate, he said.

It would be better for residents and police officers who now must travel to Port Angeles for court and it also would reduce the city's overtime costs, McHugh said.

Councilor Walt Schubert said, "I agree."

Hays said he thought a municipal court would prove too expensive, and what they have now probably is cheaper, he said.

Erichsen said there were too many unknowns versus what they know now, so they ought to try negotiating with the county, he said.

McHugh said former administrative assistant Marci Protze presented compelling evidence in favor of a municipal court or similar arrangement, and both Ritchie and Spinks agreed.

Along with the convenience to residents of a municipal court, staying with the current district court arrangement will cost the city more, he said.

"I think we have enough information, so let's see what we can negotiate," McHugh said.



Brian Gawley can be reached at bgawley@sequim gazette.com.

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