County OK’s more court funding while taking a swipe at judges

MONTESANO — The Grays Harbor County commissioners approved $148,020 to fully fund the Grays Harbor Superior Court and keep the doors open, but only after commissioners took the unusual step of having the clerk of the board read aloud a four-page resolution that took a few jabs at the Superior Court judges.

Given the negative tone of the resolution, Judge Dave Edwards said he was expecting the commissioners to deny the funding.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” Edwards said. “These funds mean it is not necessary to shut down the courthouse.”

Up next for consideration is a funding request for $225,000 to cover a budget shortfall at the Juvenile Detention Center. The county commissioners set a 2 p.m. Sept. 24 meeting in their chambers in Montesano to consider that request. The commissioners will take public comment on the proposal.

The judges are in the midst of suing the county commissioners in Thurston County Superior Court, alleging that budget cuts imposed by the commissioners for the 2012 budget year are untenable and a violation of the Separation of Powers doctrine, guaranteed by the Constitution. The commissioners say they have the right to cut the court’s budget and have filed a countersuit against the state, saying the state has failed in its duty to provide adequate funding for the counties. The state has denied the allegations.

The judges had been seeking injunctions to force the county to provide funding for the Superior Court and the juvenile detention center.

The $148,020 was approved unanimously. None of the commissioners made any public statements.

Although the judges clearly stated that there was a chance that the courts could close, the resolution approved the commissioners said that was never going to happen.

“There was no imminent threat of court closure even if the Superior Court continued its pattern of expending funds with no effort to curtail expenditures, the Board of Commissioners recognized that budgetary action had to be taken before the end of the year to deal with … unanticipated circumstances so that the Superior Court could remain open until the end of 2012.”

The resolution also goes on at length about the confusing and “contradictory statements” the judges and their attorney stated as to their budgetary needs.

The resolution also talks about the “lack of information from the Superior Court, its contradictory claims and the Superior Court’s budgetary history of not expending all appropriations made to it based upon its claims that those amounts were needed.”

Judge Edwards said he disagreed with those notions. Edwards said that although he and his fellow judges have repeatedly made themselves available to discuss budget matters and have sent multiple letters to the commissioners over the past few months, the commissioners’ office has never asked for a meeting to give the judges a chance to offer more details and clarify where the funds would be spent and why they were needed.

Just last week, Thurston County Judge Chris Wickham urged the judges and commissioners to get together and answer each other’s questions.

“There hasn’t been any communication,” Edwards said.

“We would have been happy to answer questions at any time.”

The resolution approving the funds was co-written by the commissioners’ attorney, confirmed Commissioner Terry Willis. The resolution includes partial transcripts of recent court proceedings.