Mirror editorial: New judge can help restore order in the court

The Mirror commends the city for hiring Dave Larson as the Federal Way Municipal Court’s new judge.

Larson, an attorney as well as the outgoing school board president, will bring proven leadership to a court in search of stability. The downside is that Larson does not have experience as a municipal court judge. Neither did fellow Judge Michael Morgan when he was elected as presiding judge in 2005.

However, Larson could help set a positive example while serving as one of the highest-paid city employees.

He will replace Colleen Hartl, who resigned as a court judge in December after spilling steamy details about her personal life during a booze-infused holiday party. Public defender Sean Cecil, who presented cases before Hartl, figured into the controversy upon reports of a romantic relationship.

It was a sordid display by public officials, all played out in the public arena. The embarrassing fiasco hinted at workplace drama among court employees. Questions also surfaced about the ethics involved with Morgan’s loose fingers, which fired off several gossip-stained e-mails.

Morgan should have used better judgment when reporting his observations to city officials. Morgan’s openness about the case, despite his best intentions, grew more unnecessary with each e-mail containing meaningless secondhand quotations of bedroom talk. From a professional standpoint, Mayor Jack Dovey criticized Morgan’s public actions as not being in the city’s best interests.

On that note, the new judge is no stranger to handling image-damaging news. When dealing with the media and a hot controversy, Larson took some painful lumps during his first year on the school board with the “Inconvenient Truth” moratorium. It was during this time that Larson became the board’s de facto spokesman.

He later bounced back by leading a successful lawsuit against the state on behalf of fair funding for schools. After winning back his seat in the November election, Larson was appointed school board president.

In joining the court, Larson will achieve a career goal of becoming a judge. It is hoped he will work well with Morgan. Although public interviews would have been preferred in the judge selection, city manager Neal Beets made the right call in trying to bandage a wounded court’s operations — and reputation.

Larson may not present the ultimate remedy, but he will inject a dose of respect into a court that needs to heal and move ahead. He deserves a chance to prove that he can do this job.

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