Letters to the Editor

Civics 101: Clarifying the roles of city government's three branches

By PATRICIA RICHARDSON, Federal Way's city attorney

The City of Federal Way has fielded a lot of questions regarding the Commission on Judicial Conduct’s recent reprimand of Federal Way Municipal Court Judge Michael Morgan.

We’d like to take the opportunity to clarify the role of the various parts of city government because the relationship between them is not always clear.

City government consists of three branches: The legislative branch (city council), the executive branch (city manager) and the judicial branch (municipal court). The city manager answers to the city council. Judges answer to the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

And, as elected officials, council members and judges answer to the citizens of Federal Way, either through elections or the recall process.

In summary:

• Municipal court judges are elected in a process separate from the city council.

• The city council and the city manager do not have jurisdiction over municipal court judges.

• The CJC has jurisdiction over judges’ conduct.

An independent judiciary is central to the rule of law in the United States. In particular, Washington voters amended the state constitution to establish the CJC in 1980. The CJC’s main goals are to preserve both judicial independence and public accountability. According to the CJC Web site, “The public interest requires a fair and reasonable process to address judicial misconduct or disability.”

We appreciate that government process can be confusing. Given the number of calls we’ve received on this topic, it’s a perfect time to clarify the relationship between the three branches of city government.

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