As you're reading this issue of the Bar Bulletin during the first week of August, political campaign strategists report that one-third to half of you will not yet have cast your ballots in the August 7 primary election in Washington. That means I have one more opportunity to make the case for "Yes for Children & Families," also known as Proposition 1. Let me focus on answers to three questions I'm often asked about this measure.
First, why should members of the bar be concerned about whether or not the county can replace the current juvenile courthouse facility? It's simple. Attorneys as officers of the court have a special obligation to ensure that adequate facilities exist to administer justice. The current Youth Services Center is far from adequate.
As earlier Bar Bulletin columns have noted, a malfunctioning heating/air conditioning system, damaged water distribution pipes that supply dark, brown liquid to drinking fountains, too-small courtrooms where opposing parties are crammed into seats almost on top of each other, and unsafe public waiting areas that offer no privacy to attorneys and their clients are just a few examples of the problems with the current facility. Experts tell us a new facility is more cost effective than continued repairs, which are akin to spending ever more money fixing a broken-down car versus realizing that the time has come to invest in a new vehicle.
While most King County attorneys do not practice in juvenile court, the campaign to replace the existing dilapidated facility still merits the bar's full support. Every practice area is part of the whole justice system, from a small municipal court to the U.S. Supreme Court.
This profession is charged with ensuring an accessible justice system where all parties can ultimately have their "day in court" at each step in that system. And that means much more than just getting a matter on the court calendar. It means ensuring fair rules of practice, quality representation, impartial judges and even a safe, functional facility in which to conduct proceedings.
This last aspect is definitely not available at the existing juvenile facility. The bar is a community and its voice most effective when it stands up together to protect and promote the needs of the justice system.
Second, why can't a new facility be paid for from existing taxes? The county's general fund is designed to pay for regular, ongoing government services: salaries for police, firefighters and public health workers; maintenance and energy costs for county office space, including courthouses, office buildings and other public facilities; and many critical services such as animal control, snow removal and much more.
Given that much of the general fund is underwritten by sales tax revenues, the current recession means those revenues are stagnant and not keeping up with inflation. While the county does a good job using its limited existing revenues to pay for those regular government services, the large price tag for capital projects like new building construction would strain the existing general fund to the point that some of the regular services would be jeopardized. That's why voters are asked to approve special levies to fund projects like school and courthouse construction.
The proposal for the new Children and Family Justice Center would ask the average homeowner to pay $25 a year for nine years to fund this project. It is not a permanent tax increase, but rather one designed to make an investment in the community's future.
Lastly, who else is supporting this measure? In addition to the King County Bar Association and the unanimous Metropolitan King County Council, Proposition 1 has been widely endorsed by many others. From the media, The Seattle Times, the Bellevue Reporter, and The Stranger all agree that this is a reasonable solution that should be adopted.
From government leaders, the measure has bipartisan backing from King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, Superior Court Presiding Judge Richard McDermott, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke and Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis. From civic groups, Proposition 1 has been endorsed by the League of Women Voters, the Municipal League, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and the South King County Council of Human Services. And many, many prominent citizens have spoken in support: Bobbe Bridge, who leads the Center for Children and Youth Justice, former U.S. Attorney John McKay, and Estella Ortega from El Centro de la Raza are just three of them.
The bar and bench of King County cannot let this measure fail on the primary ballot. It's too important to having the quality justice system our community deserves. Please say "Yes for Children and Families" and vote yes for King County Proposition 1.
Andrew Prazuch is executive director of the King County Bar Association. He can be reached by email (email@example.com) or phone (206-267-7061). More information about the ballot measure is available online at www.kcba.org/prop1.