July 2012 Bar Bulletin
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July 2012 Bar Bulletin

Children and Family Justice Center: A Call for Help

By Judge Richard F. McDermott


Ladies and gentlemen of the bar, I am writing this to ask for your help. On August 7, there will be a primary election. One of the ballot measures for consideration on that date is Proposition 1, a measure to build a new Children and Family Justice Center. I am asking for your support of that measure. That means I am asking for your vote, for you to communicate our need to your clients and friends, and for you to tell everyone you can to please support this important proposition.

In February of this year, KCBA President Joe Bringman eloquently wrote in the Bar Bulletin that it is time to try again to build a new Children and Family Justice Center. He explained that the current Youth Services Center is in a shocking state of disrepair, that the lower floors are subject to flooding, that mold is present from prior floods, that plaster is literally coming off the walls, that brown water flows from many of the pipes on the first floor, that the HVAC system does not work above the second floor, that the facility literally looks and functions like a third-world building. This is where we try to serve our most vulnerable citizens - our children.

We are no longer able to adequately provide for our children in this building. For the past 15 years, the King County Juvenile Court has been a model court for what is right in dealing with juveniles. We have reduced recidivism by more than 50 percent. We have established juvenile and family drug courts that are the envy of the state. We have helped children who were neglected and abused, and have been able to happily reunite them with parents who have received necessary services.

Every day, without fanfare or publicity, we go about helping every child who needs help. We can no longer do the kind of job we demand of ourselves because of the deplorable condition of this building.

It is not easy for your presiding judge to ask people to pay more taxes. We are in a recession, the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression. Attorneys across the state just voted to reduce their state bar fees. We are all hurting. Fees are down. We see more pro se parties in court than ever before. We feel your pain, too, because we have not received any salary increase in four years. But I ask you to sacrifice for our future.

The ballot measure calls for a property tax, technically called a levy lid lift. It adds 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to your property tax bill for nine years. If you own a home with an assessed value of $350,000, you will pay $24.50 more in property taxes per year for nine years (levy lid lifts are limited by the Legislature to nine years). This will raise enough revenue for us to build a new courthouse at the site of our current Youth Services Center (12th and Alder in Seattle) with room for us to provide on-site services for our children.

It will also allow us to build a new, smaller, more efficient detention facility that will be safer for those children who have to be detained (the Legislature requires a detention facility when a county has a juvenile courthouse). It will also allow us to add additional courtrooms to allow one judge to hear all cases involving individual children and their families to ensure continuity and quality decisions.

Some people feel that the county has an unlimited source of revenue and structures should not be placed on a separate ballot. That is no longer the case. When the 1% property tax increase limitation was voted on by our citizens several years ago, the general fund of every county began to shrink. Inflation is more than 1%, but the revenues each county can raise do not match the increase in fixed expenses each and every year.

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