Lovick’s bill brings new District Court Judge to Snohomish County
OLYMPIA, Wash., April 3, 2023—Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5003 on Thursday, March 30, which will increase the number of district court judges in Snohomish County to nine. This would be the district court’s first bench expansion in 25 years.
The bill—which was sponsored by Senator John Lovick (D-Mill Creek)—was recommended by the Administrative Office of the Courts considering the county’s backlog in cases and rising population that has increased by almost 300,000 residents since the last district court bench expansion in 1998.
“SB 5003 adds a second judge to the Cascade Division of the Snohomish County District Courts at a time when the need for a new judge is urgent,” said prime sponsor of the bill Sen. John Lovick (D-Mill Creek) in a statement. “Just last year we saw that protection order filings were up, and with a 30% increase in criminal filings the courts are beyond busy—they are slammed. This legislation ensures our court system is effectively serving the people of Snohomish County in a manner which is timely and accessible.”
The number of district court judges is established by law but state law also authorizes the Washington Supreme Court to provide recommendations to the legislature to change the number of district court judges based on an objective workload analysis.
In addition to being one of the state’s fastest growing counties, Snohomish County has also witnessed a tremendous backlog in caseload since judges ordered the suspension of jury trials in March 2020 due to the pandemic.
At that time, Snohomish County District Prosecuting Attorneys (DPAs) working in the violent crimes unit saw a 56% increase in cases awaiting review and a 58% increase in cases awaiting trial. The county also had 84 uncharged cases awaiting DPA review and 50 charged cases pending trial. The majority of in-custody defendants awaiting trial are being held on violent, sexual assault, and domestic violence crimes.
Constitutional protections concerning time-for-trial compelled prosecutors to prioritize these cases to minimize the possibility of cases being dismissed for speedy trial violations, Adam Cornell, former County Prosecutor, told the Lynnwood Times last year when nonviolent property and drug cases swelled from 3,764 on February 2, 2020, to 6,400 in the summer of 2021—an increase of 70%.
There has been progress on the backlog of cases since then but current Prosecuting Attorney Jason Cummings informed the Lynnwood Times “we’re not there yet.”
“I’ve used this analogy before that we’re not a speed boat on Lake Stevens, we’re more like one of the aircraft carriers coming into the Navy port here in Everett. We’re not going to turn things around on a dime, but we are starting to make progress,” Cummings told the Lynnwood Times in a February interview. “Having those additional judges is going to help free up some resources.”
District Courts have limited jurisdiction resolving, and adjudicating, infractions, criminal traffic, and criminal non-traffic violations. A district court’s criminal jurisdiction is concurrent with thesuperior court for all misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, and violations of city ordinances.
Additionally, district courts have jurisdiction over domestic violence protection order proceedings, sexual assault protection order proceedings, stalking protection order proceedings, anti-harassment protection order proceedings, name change proceedings, and certain lien foreclosure proceedings. District courts also have limited jurisdiction over temporary extreme risk protection orders.
Before reaching the Governor’s desk for signature, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate on January 25, and passed the House with 96 yeas, one nay, with one excused on March 22. The opposing vote came from Representative Mike Chapman (D-Post Angeles).
The county could see a new judge, who will be appointed by the Snohomish County Council, some time this July when the bill goes into effect.
Typically, a county is responsible for paying the expenses of this position—a salary of over $200,000 a year—with no reimbursement from the state. However, if the legislature approves an increase in the base number of district judges, all related costs may be paid for by State Treasurer’s County Criminal Justice Assistance Account.
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