District court candidates talk budget cuts, city affairs in Snoqualmie visit

Contrasting their qualities, candidates for a newly created district court judgeship told the Snoqualmie Valley Rotary Club how they plan to deal with budget cuts and staff challenges.

Donna Tucker and Larry Mitchell, running for King County District Court's Northeast District, position 7, spoke at a morning meeting Thursday, Oct. 14, at the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge.

The Northeast District will cover the northeastern part of the Eastside, including Snoqualmie, North Bend, Fall City and Carnation.

Tucker, a Newcastle resident, is a pro-tem, or fill-in, judge who spent 21 years as a trial attorney.

Mitchell lives in Redmond and is the city's prosecuting attorney. Prior to prosecution, Mitchell worked for Eastern Airlines. Redmond has a busy court, and Mitchell said he files roughly 1,500 cases a year.

Both Tucker and Mitchell said the court system will be challenged by budget cuts. Cuts to probation officers will make it harder for the court to keep track of offenders.

"Judges themselves will have to take a more active role in supervision," Tucker said.

Tucker said the relationship between district court management and staff has become strained, and stressed finding ways to fix it. Mitchell said the court system has no dedicated revenue stream outside of the county's general fund, and suggested finding new funding solutions to maintain stability.

The courts are "the foundation of a civil society," Mitchell said. "You have to establish priorities in spending, so you can maintain stability in society."

Candidates answered questions from Rotary members, including North Bend City Administrator Duncan Wilson, who asked for the candidates stances on abolishing municipal courts and on the requirement for public defenders at municipal arraignments.

Mitchell told Wilson that if cities want municipal courts, that's up to residents. He indicated that public defense may be waived, but guilty pleas shouldn't be accepted under the circumstances.

"Individual rights have to be protected," Mitchell said. "Judges, prosecutors, all have to work together to see that's done."

Defendants have the right to an attorney, and also have to right to ask for a continuance of a hearing if they don't have access to one.

"Most folks take advantage of that," Mitchell said. "You may have a defense that you don't know about, that a lawyer would know."

Tucker gave her definition of good and bad municipal courts—"Good meaning that the city management basically stays out of the court's business."

She pointed to cases where municipal judges are appointed by cities. North Bend and Snoqualmie appoint their municipal court judge.

"I have worked in some courts where I was uncomfortable, because there were policies that were imposed that were not set by the judge, but appeared to come from city administration, which is totally inappropriate in our separation of government powers. If we're going to have municipal court judges, they need to be elected by the people," she said.

Tucker said that in special circumstances, judges can make sure all parties understand their rights.

"I'm not sure we need to saddle all of our jurisdictions with having an attorney in the court room for every arraignment," Tucker told Wilson. "The judge can deal with that."

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