City Council interested in forming municipal court
MONROE - The City Council is moving forward with exploring a proposal to start a city municipal court and end its contract with Snohomish County Evergreen District Court.
The municipal court would handle traffic infraction cases and misdemeanor cases, and court services would be held in council chambers at City Hall, according to a proposal by Police Chief Tim Quenzer.
Civil cases and felonies would continue to be handled by Snohomish County courts.
Quenzer said the district court has become too crowded to conduct business. Over the long-term, Quenzer said the city would save money by offering these services themselves instead of contracting with the county.
The city is charged $36.79 for every infraction the city files with district court. For each misdemeanor, the city is charged $106.62. These fees are subject to increases. The city currently budgets $170,000 for these filing fees, which could be folded into the city’s budget if the city starts a municipal court.
Finance director Dianne Nelson said the long-term cost savings would go beyond filing fees. The city hopes to save big chunks of money in jailing and court-appointed attorney fees, as well.
“We’ll be able to better utilize the electronic home-monitoring system,”
Nelson said. “The district courts have a preference to incarcerate, and we pay a lot in jail fees. If we can promote electronic home devices, it would save us a lot of money in jail fees. Jails are very expensive.”
People who can’t pay for their defense also are extremely expensive, she said. The district court has a much more lax process to determine whether someone is eligible for a court-appointed attorney, which the city ultimately pays for that cost.
“Anyone who has to go to district court on a Monroe warrant, all they have to say is ‘I want a lawyer’ and they’re appointed one and we have to pay the attorney fee,” Nelson said. “(With the formation of a municipal court,) we can implement a screening process to prove that you can’t afford an attorney before we appoint them one.”
The city would receive an additional monthly revenue of about $2,500 for people on probation if it offered court services.
If the City Council approves forming a municipal court, the court wouldn’t begin hearing cases until Jan. 1, 2015. The city must give a one-year notice before ending a contract for court services. The council has until Dec. 1, 2014 to adopt an ordinance establishing a municipal court.
At a council meeting last month, the City Council considered a second reading of the proposal and decided to move forward with ending the city’s contract with the district court.
Quenzer estimated initial set-up costs for a municipal court would total $11,100. These items would include a security metal detector ($3,500), and an electronic system for judicial records ($3,000).
Annual costs are estimated to total $166,518. Extra staffing costs, he said, “will make up the majority of ongoing costs associated with the municipal court.”
A part-time judge’s salary is estimated to be $36,000 per year (no benefits), a court administrator would be $96,268 (including benefits) and court security is estimated to cost $15,000 per year. The court clerk’s salary is currently earmarked in the city’s general fund.
Quenzer’s timeline for the formation of a municipal court coincides with the upcoming 2014 judicial election, which marks the end of the current four-year judicial term. Once the ordinance creating a municipal court is finalized, Mayor Robert Zimmerman would have 30 days to appoint a part-time judge.
Part-time judges are exempt from the election process.
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