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Larson joins a court bruised by controversy

Dave Larson - File photo
Dave Larson
— image credit: File photo

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

In yet another unexpected twist in Federal Way Municipal Court happenings, city manager Neal Beets appointed current school board president Dave Larson on Feb. 19 to fill the court's vacant judge position.

Following judge Colleen Hartl's resignation in December, Beets said the city would follow a plan to find Hartl's successor. In mid-January, he said the city would soon begin its process. But by Tuesday, Beets had decided it was necessary to instead appoint a successor.

Larson will begin March 3 and serve through November 2009, rather than complete a three- to six-month public procedure.

"In my opinion, the court has undergone considerable stress and it is best for the court and for the people who appear in the court and the city to get a permanent full-time judge in there sooner rather than later," Beets said.

Larson is familiar with the city. He graduated form Federal Way High School in 1976. He is involved with the Federal Way Kiwanis Club, as well as the Federal Way Ethics Commission.

He is a 1980 University of Puget Sound graduate, with a degree in public administration. Larson went on to graduate from Seattle University with a law degree in 1984. He currently works as an attorney at Williams Kastner law firm in Tacoma. He will step down from his role as school board president Feb. 29 and will also leave his job at the law firm.

Larson does not have experience as a municipal court judge. He applied for the title in Federal Way in the years 2000, 2002 and 2004, before judges became elected positions. Larson will now serve until November 2009. At that time, an election will take place.

"It is a special honor to be selected as a judge. But, it is even more special to be placed in this position of service in a community that I am so firmly rooted in," Larson said.

Larson's lack of experience as a judge does not worry Beets, who said the court needs stability. Beets feels Larson will best be able to provide this stability as he has done on the school board.

"I think based upon the public process we went through just nine months ago, we are not going to see anybody with higher quality than David Larson," Beets said.

The apointment process, had it been conducted, would have included the review of approximately eight applicants for the Federal Way Municipal Court judge, he said. A possibility exists that more applicants would have contended for the position had a public process taken place, but Larson's ties to the community and law skills make him ideal for the job, Beets said.

"I would not expect any better to come out of that process," Beets said.

Experience is not always an indicator for success, he said. Michael Morgan did not have previous experience as a judge before he was elected as Federal Way's presiding judge in 2005. Hartl served as a judge in both Des Moines and Normandy Park before she began her term in Federal Way.

Because Hartl resigned before her term was completed, Beets had the authority to either appoint an interim judge himself or go through a public process to assist in the appointment. Either option would have required approval by the Federal Way City Council before the decision was finalized.

The council voted unanimously to approve Beets' decision to appoint Larson without having first completed a public process. But council members Jeanne Burbidge, Dini Duclos and Linda Kochmar made it clear they prefer a public process when appointing a judge.

Duclos said there is a need for immediate court stability. Kochmar said she hopes Morgan and Larson work cooperatively. Under normal circumstances Burbidge would insist on a public process. but the court's current state is unusual, she said.

"I realize that there has been media attention paid to this position, and my only comment on that is that the best thing for our community and this court right now is to move on, put the past behind us, to heal wounds, and to focus on providing the essential service this court has intended to provide to this community," Larson said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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Correction:

In a Feb. 23 article titled “Larson joins a court bruised by controversy; city skips public selection process,” it was incorrectly reported that new Federal Way Municipal Court Judge Dave Larson applied for a judge position in Federal Way in the years 2000, 2002 and 2004. Larson did apply for a judge position during these years, but not with the City of Federal Way. In 2000, he ran for election on the State Supreme Court. In 2002 and 2004, he ran for King County Superior Court judge.

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Check it out:

The Federal Way Municipal Court is a court of limited jurisdiction, authorized by Washington state statute to preside over civil and traffic infractions, civil vehicle impound hearings and criminal and gross misdemeanors. Mitigation and contested hearings, arraignments, pre-trial hearings, non-jury and jury trials, sentencing and reviews also take place at the court.

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