City judge may be elected
June 13, 2008 · Updated 11:57 AM
By ERICA HALL
Federal Way Municipal Court Judge David Tracey has been appointed since 1999, just prior to the formation of the court in January 2000. But the City Council now is considering whether to make him an elected official, giving the public the responsibility of choosing the judge.
State law requires that judges who work 35 hours a week or more must be elected by the public. Since the creation of its court, Federal Way has set Traceys hours at about 32 a week.
Court Commissioner Tony Platter works another 30 a week. State law doesnt set restrictions on commissioners hours.
Councilman Jim Ferrell said there could be a perception that Federal Way is skirting state law by limiting Traceys hours to less than 35 thereby keeping the judges position appointed and having Platter work 30.
Its an issue of city governance that comes down to a separation of powers and judicial independence, Ferrell said. Its problematic when you have one of the branches serving under one of the other branches.
Ferrell, a King County deputy prosecuting attorney who isnt involved in cases directerd to Federal Ways court, noted the courthears enough cases and has enough work to keep a full-time, elected judge and a part-time commissioner busy. He said the city should make Traceys position full-time and elected.
The spirit of the law is to make the judge accountable to the people, Ferrell said.
According to the Association of Washington Cities, cities of comparable size to Federal Way have elected judges.
Who is eligible to serve as a municipal court judge is unaffected by whether the position is appointed or elected. Neither appointment nor election would affect the citys ability to control revenue for the court, nor would it raise or lower the costs or court operations and affect the citys budget. Neither appointment nor election would change how much authority the judge would have to administer the court.
Tracey declined to comment on the issue.
City manager David Moseley, saying he wasnt speaking for or against making the position being elected, recently told the council that appointed judges are accountable to the public through a public comment period to the city manager prior to a managers recommendation on appointing a judge.
The judge serves at the pleasure of the council, Moseley said.
In December 2002, domestic violence task force members spoke against Traceys reappointment. They said he made victims uncomfortable during court proceedings and seemed to side with accused batterers. Other judges testified in support of Traceys character and ability, however, and the council ultimately approved his reappointment.
Councilman Eric Faison said he doesnnt care whether the citys judge is appointed or elected. But he said as long as its an issue of complying with the spirit of state law, hes in favor of making the position elected. This is the system we exist under, and we should comply with it, he said.
Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, email@example.com