News

County budget adjourns District Court in FWay

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

South King County residents will have to go somewhere besides Federal Way for District Court business if a proposed county budget for 2003 is approved.

County Executive Ron Sims called this week for a budget that would save $1 million in court expenses by closing the Federal Way and Renton divisions and folding them into the remaining 10 District Court facilities. The nearest one to Federal Way is in Kent.

Sims said the court cutbacks, which have been discussed since last spring, are part of cost-slashing necessary to balance next year’s county budget against a projected $52 million deficit.

Proposed cuts include $10.1 million in parks and recreation by closing parks and other county-operated facilities that aren’t transferred to cities. They include the Kenneth Jones swimming pool in Federal Way, where the City Council is debating possible city ownership of the pool.

Sims recommends overall cuts in criminal justice of $8.1 million, but he noted that just under 73 percent of the current-expense portion of next year’s total budget is still earmarked for criminal justice. Deep cuts are also proposed in various social services. Budget information is available on-line at www.metrokc.gov.

The Federal Way division of District Court has been in the West Campus area at 33506 10th Pl. S. since 1979. In addition to three judges –– E. T. "Woody" Leverette, Judith Eiler and Robert Stead –– who are assigned there, the division has a manager and 14 other employees.

In 1990, Federal Way became a city and contracted with the division. The city’s own Municipal Court now handles traffic and criminal misdemeanor cases generated within the city.

But from other areas, the District Court division receives approximately 22,000 cases a year, including infractions, misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, civil, small claims, vehicle impounds, name changes, passports and anti-harassment and domestic violence orders.

Requiring Federal Way-area residents to drive to Kent would be an inconvenience and “not a good service to the public,” Eiler said in June.

Similar comments came this week from Elizabeth Stephenson and Tim Jenkins, candidates for judge who are facing each other in a Nov. 5 general election race to replace the retiring Leaverette.

“Centralization will probably save the county some money in the long run, but it wlil have some negative impacts” by reducing the public’s access to District Court, Jenkins said.

Sims said the changes are the best way to continue “mandatory” criminal justice services while reducing their cost.

County Council adoption of the budget is expected in mid-November.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com

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