Three months ago in these pages, KCBA President Joe Bringman made the case that the time was right to build a new Children and Family Justice Center in King County. The Metropolitan King County Council agreed with him, and voted unanimously on April 16 to send a funding measure for a new center to the voters this summer.
KCBA's Board of Trustees adopted a resolution two days later pledging the KCBA's full support for the public campaign to enact the ballot measure. Why are we supporting a new court facility? First, the buildings are decrepit.
The current Youth Services Center consists of three connected buildings near the Seattle University School of Law. Built in stages between 1952 and 1991, the buildings today are in a state of "severe disrepair." We've had reports for years of inoperable heating/air conditioning systems, and brown water in drinking fountains. Most recently, PCBs were found throughout one of the buildings, resulting in a two-year project to remove the toxins and eliminate long-term exposure to our county employees and the public.
King County has been studying the problems since 2005 and has determined that further remediation and renovation is less cost-effective over the long run than demolition and new construction.
Second, the facilities don't meet modern-day, juvenile justice standards. The facilities were configured to meet what was then considered to be best practices in juvenile justice, but which today are considered dangerously out of date. For example, small, individual courtrooms were designed for a simpler time, with an intimate setting between judge and child, defender and prosecutor. That same floor plan today forces a victim of domestic violence to sit next to the person charged with harming her, which is far from a best practice.
The Alder courthouse waiting room was designed as a single, central space where defendants and victims, prosecutors and defenders, witnesses and family members all sat together politely. Today, we both prefer and have new legal restrictions, such as health privacy laws, that prohibit public conversations about many issues. In addition, we are unfortunately faced today with gang violence that can escalate in common waiting areas.
The County Council has approved a plan to demolish the existing campus over a several-year period and replace it with a new courthouse/administration facility, detention center and expanded onsite parking. The proposed cost is $210 million, which would increase the property tax on a $350,000 home by just $25 a year (or $2 a month). The new tax will last just nine years.
Whether you have ever stepped foot in the current center and regardless of your practice area, the bar needs to strongly support this new center. We have an obligation to advocate for excellence in the administration of justice, which includes ensuring necessary facilities to support the county court system. We would fail in our duty to champion the justice system if we failed to be leaders in the upcoming ballot campaign.
Will you help? We will need speakers and writers to make presentations to civic, political and other groups to rally support. We will need you to encourage your family, friends and neighbors to vote in favor of this measure (will you put a sign in your yard or window, or a bumper sticker on your car?). We will need contributions to pay for get-out-the-vote efforts, including yard signs, mailings, and development of social media and a campaign website.
If we work together, we can bring our county a quality Children and Family Justice Center that will make our community safer and make a difference in the lives of many young people who might otherwise face a very regrettable future.
Andrew Prazuch is executive director of the King County Bar Association. He can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (206-267-7061).