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Municipal court getting by after resignation

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

To the city’s surprise, Federal Way’s newest municipal court judge, Colleen Hartl, announced her resignation Dec. 19.

Hartl, who served as a Federal Way Municipal Court judge since May, cited personal and health reasons for her resignation. With the loss of Hartl’s services, effective immediately, the city will, for the second time within a year, launch a search for another judge. Successors have already begun to show interest.

Hartl, a Federal Way resident, was hired in May as a result of the voter-approved Proposition One. The property tax increase measure, passed in November 2006, made it possible to convert Federal Way’s part-time court commissioner position into a full-time judge position.

Hartl has served as a judge in Des Moines and Normandy Park, beginning in 2001 and 2004, respectively. She was picked from a pool of 24 candidates.

Though she only served with the city for seven months, that was long enough to confirm that Federal Way needs two judges, according to City Manager Neal Beets.

“We are still convinced a second judge is necessary,” he said.

The process to select a replacement for Hartl will begin in January. But until then, temporary judges, many of them state-approved lawyers, also known as judges pro tem, are stepping up to ease the workload and assure the court continues to operate smoothly.

“We are not going to be delaying the processing of any cases,” Beets said.

Judge Michael Morgan first became aware of Hartl’s decision to resign Dec. 17, he said. Her decision came as a surprise and has been somewhat disruptive to staff, Morgan said.

“This is difficult because of the abrupt nature of this,” he said

After a few moments of initial panic at the loss of Hartl’s services during a time of year when judges pro tem are hard to come by, Morgan immediately began working to cover Hartl’s agenda, he said. The pro tems are scheduled to serve in the Federal Way Municipal Court through February, Morgan said. He is prepared to request their services beyond that point if necessary, he said.

“People are really pulling together now and if you came to our court you’d see we’re not skipping a beat,” Morgan said.

The city will begin scouting for a replacement next month, Beets said. Earlier this year when the city began searching to fill the judge position for the first time, a list of several qualified candidates was accumulated, he said. Extensive interviews were conducted as well, Beets said.

Now, the city may chose to revisit the list and interviews in an attempt to fill the judge position for a second time, he said. Some of the previous candidates have already found positions, but some have not and a handful have shown a renewed interest in working in Federal Way, Beets said.

Former Federal Way court commissioner Tony Platter is one candidate that plans to apply for Hartl’s former position, he said. His planned announcement to retire from his position as judge in Black Diamond came only three days after Hartl stepped down. Platter served in the part-time position of court commissioner for the Federal Way Municipal Court for more than six years, while consecutively serving as judge in Black Diamond. When the time came for the City of Federal Way to hire a second full-time judge, Platter was interested but did not think he could handle duties in Black Diamond and Federal Way.

“I was acting as Black Diamond judge at that time and found doing the two would be very taxing,” Platter said.

Platter is currently serving as one of Federal Way’s judges pro tem. He is familiar with the court and works well with Morgan.

“He’s always put the interest of this court over his own personal interest,” Morgan said of Platter.

However, Morgan stressed Platter is just one of several highly qualified candidates for the municipal court judge opening. Many familiar candidates applied the first time around and those, as well as new candidates are expected to apply this time, he said. Morgan anticipates the city will not have any difficulty filling Hartl’s position.

“I think there are several good candidates I am aware of,” Morgan said.

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

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