Judge post draws fire

The City Council reappointed Federal Way Municipal Court Judge David Tracey to his chair this month over the objections of the Federal Way Domestic Violence Task Force.

Tracey’s colleagues painted the objections as a “character assassination” and stepped up at a Dec. 18 council meeting to support Tracey.

Task force member Lorraine Netherton alleged at the same meeting that Tracey has a history of making poor decisions when it comes to domestic violence, like releasing perpetrators and not raising bail.

“Two victims were seriously injured because the perps asked to be let out early and Tracey allowed them to be,” Netherton said.

Netherton also told the council that Tracey’s demeanor toward victims is often condescending, while his attitude toward perpetrators is almost apologetic. She brought audio tapes and transcripts for the councilors to hear, though most declined to listen to them prior to voting.

Tracey’s colleagues, however, told the council that Tracey is a good judge. Federal Way Court Commissioner Tony Platter said Tracey exercised restraint, dignity and compassion in the courtroom, but also followed the rules.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, neither does Judge Tracey,” Platter said. “We just do our best.”

Task force members brought concerns to the council last summer, but felt members were unresponsive.

Assistant City Manager Derek Mattheson said the city takes domestic violence very seriously, but it also has other considerations, including providing adequate public defense to suspects who can’t afford their own lawyers and providing the court as an unbiased forum for resolving issues.

“Our interest is in seeing the whole system work well,” he said.

When Tracey was scheduled to be reappointed earlier this month, the task force asked the city not to reappoint him. The council agreed to delay a decision until Dec. 18.

In the meantime, councilors asked Tracey and task force members to meet in mediation.

On Dec. 17, Tracey and the task force met in a six-hour mediation session, during which they agreed to the formation of a coordination committee.

A preliminary meeting will be held at the beginning of next year to determine who should be on the committee, how often the committee will meet and what the committee will address, Mattheson said.

The task force asked the city to give Tracey a 90-day temporary reappointment, but city officials don’t have the authority to make temporary appointments.

The task force also asked to discuss Tracey’s reappointment in executive session following the Dec. 18 meeting. The Open Public Meetings Act allows city bodies to meet to discuss an employee’s performance, but doesn’t necessarily allow for a third party to meet in executive session to discuss an employee’s performance.

Tracey told the council on Tuesday he had made mistakes, but he was willing to learn from them. Several of his colleagues old the council Tracey was a fair, impartial judge.

Platter made his endorsement of Tracey clear.

“Domestic violence is at the top of the list of things we discuss,” he said. “All concerns raised by the members of the task force are being addressed and were being addressed prior to this summer.”

Tim Jenkins, the city’s first prosecutor, called the proceedings a character assassination. “Judge Tracey is here before this council at the whim of a particular group who wants to have an agenda pushed,” he said.

“He cares very much about victim’s rights,” he added. “Sometimes I’m furious with his decisions, but that’s why there’s an appellate court.”

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