From the Desk of the Presiding Judge
Budget Concerns Again an Issue for Superior Court
New Focus on Trial Scheduling, Technology
By Judge Richard McDermott
I did not have the opportunity of writing an article for last month, so it is appropriate for me to give you an update on several issues affecting the King County Superior Court. By writing this column it is my hope that you better understand what issues the court is facing and what activities are going on outside of the courtrooms.
Our court is in the midst of budget meetings again. We have a Budget Committee co-chaired by judges Susan Craighead and Beth Andrus and we have been meeting since January. Initially, the King County Executive's Office annually gives us a target figure for budgetary purposes and we are tasked with fitting in all the court's constitutionally mandated responsibilities and services within this figure.
Many hundreds of hours go into coming up with appropriate scenarios so we can maximize the benefit to the public, protect the rights guaranteed by the constitution and fit within the budget. I must admit that we have been able to develop an excellent relationship with both the King County Executive and the King County Council and they understand that there are simply some areas that cannot be cut. That being said, it is still a very difficult process as we will be expected to again cut our budget because revenues in King County will not match expenses. Stay tuned for future developments in this area.
Over a year ago our court implemented a pilot project concerning the assigning of both civil and criminal cases. We previously had both a civil and criminal department in Seattle and Kent. That changed in Kent because of the heavy volume of criminal cases in comparison to civil and seemed to allow for more efficiency. Therefore, we decided to do the same thing in Seattle on a pilot basis.
We merged the criminal and civil departments and made all the judges simply take the next case that they were ready for. It improved our efficiency and created less court downtime, but adversely affected trial date certainty for civil cases. I have recently met with a number of prominent civil lawyers and they have indicated to me that they are upset that they are not getting out on the initial trial date, that they have had to change witness schedules at the last minute (at great expense) and that they are frustrated. If that is the case, you need to let either Judge Craighead or me know.
We are looking at all kinds of statistics and trying to see what system most benefits the most people. The judges will soon be voting on this issue at one of our upcoming judges' meetings, so I encourage you to let us know how you feel.
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