If Pierce County must reinstate its 22nd Superior Court judge, the County Council believes the state of Washington should help cover the cost.
Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna today issued an opinion against the council’s decision last fall to eliminate former Judge Michael Hecht’s vacant seat to save money in the 2009 and 2010 county budgets. The carefully worded, six-page opinion narrowly concludes that only the state legislature can set the number of judges in each county’s superior court, but its length acknowledges the complexity of the issue and it states that the council used “thoughtful analysis” in making its case.
“I’m glad that the attorney general took such care in considering this difficult issue,” Council Chair Roger Bush said. “Even though he ultimately decided against us, I don’t think the door is closed to us receiving some help from the state as we try to fill our budgetary obligations.”
By requiring that Superior Court return to 22 judges, Bush said the state is imposing an unfunded mandate on the county.
“The money we saved from eliminating that seat has already been used on other needs in Superior Court,” Bush said. “At this point, it will be a struggle to fund a 22nd judge.”
In the meantime, the council will begin working with Superior Court to reinstate the 22nd judgeship while continuing to seek long-sought data from the court on its performance in managing felony cases.