Judge’s letter reflects honeymoon period

By Bob Roegner, Inside Politics

OK, whoever is giving new Federal Way Municipal Court Judge David Larson political advice, please stop it.

That seemed to be the consensus viewpoint of City Hall and court watchers after Larson’s open letter to the public appeared April 23 in the Federal Way Mirror.

Larson’s letter described how, after six weeks in his new position, Judge Michael Morgan, City Manager Neal Beets, court staff, prosecutorial and defense attorneys, and nearly everyone else he came in contact with, were wonderful.

Most community leaders I heard from commented that “of course everyone is nice to him; they’re all nice people, but issuing such a broad statement is premature.”

Also, the issues in the court that the public, the city manager and the city council want resolved probably haven’t surfaced yet. Everyone is certainly pleased that everything is off to a good start, but that’s all it is — a start. Like new partnerships or marriages, everyone is still in the honeymoon period.

The first six weeks aren’t when the issues surface, and they might not surface for six months or more. Most new employees to any work place, including Judge Larson, can only learn procedures, paperwork flow, the names of people and the schedule in the first few weeks.

It will take months to learn the personalities, work styles, habits and culture that make any work environment, including the court, actually work or not work.

To the court staff, Larson is a new boss they need to work with and figure out.

To police officials, prosecutors and defense attorneys, he’s a judge who will have a major impact on their cases, success and careers. To other city staff and elected officials, he’s a new player who is being watched to see if he can bring stability to a perceived unstable environment.

To Judge Morgan, Judge Larson is a new colleague whom he hopes will be more cooperative and one he can get along with better than former Judge Colleen Hartl, or if not, he’s another issue to overcome.

Everyone wants to get along with Judge Larson, but everyone is also watching him to see what he will do. What will he do, not the first time he and Judge Morgan disagree, but the fourth or fifth time, if it should occur? How will they work together over the next year and a half to improve the court and keep it out of the media?

We already have a pretty good idea the city administration and city council have concerns about the court.

We suspect, but don’t know for sure, that the investigations Judge Morgan wants to keep sealed may suggest that the court employees have some issues.

So everyone is watching Judge Larson to see if his presence will positively change the court culture. Most new employees, like Larson, would listen, ask a lot of questions and learn. Judgments would be reserved for a much later time and not aired publicly.

By sending an open letter to the public that everything is wonderful, Larson has unnecessarily tied himself to the past problems of the court.

And while we hope everything goes well, if it doesn’t, that letter will surface again. Well intended? Undoubtedly. Was it naïve? Definitely.

Many around city government hope this is a one-time misguided attempt to be helpful, not a trend, because there’s too much at stake. Everyone will continue to watch.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn, can be reached at bjroegner@comcast.net.

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