Five years later, District Court in Auburn working as intended

The City of Auburn replaced its long-standing municipal court with a King County-run District Court in 2012.

As Rob Roscoe, Auburn’s director of Human Resources and Risk Management, recently told City leaders, the new regime is working about as planned.

“We have full district court services here now, so people have access to small claims court, which we didn’t have in the past,” Roscoe said.

Small claims court meets once a month, depending on how many people file lawsuits.

“Small claims is at the very, very lower end of dollar figures,” said City Attorney Dan Heid. “In District Court, you can only sue for dollars; you can’t ask for the return of property or anything like that. And attorneys are not allowed to represent clients.”

Turning to the actual number of case filings in Auburn’s court, Roscoe said, they have been up and down over the last four years, from 13,600 case filings in 2014 to 12,400 in 2015 and 12,571 in 2016. This year to date, the numbers are trending at about 13,700, which is up about 9.6 percent.

“I think with the addition of some new law enforcement, we can expect to see the numbers gradually increase as I get staff hired, which we are working on. It’s a difficult time right now to hire,” Roscoe said.

District Court bills the City in arrears based on case filings, so the City is at present reviewing 2016’s billings. In 2014 District Court billed the City $1.4 million and in 2015 $1.5 million, figures that were offset in 2014 by $843,921 and in 2015 by $829,453 respectively in fines, tickets and fees.

Roscoe said District Court officials are weighing something new – a community court. This type of court not only transfers some quality-of-life offenses like trespassing out of the criminal court and into non-criminal court, but it also connects individual participants with social services like alcohol, rehab and mental health they may need to improve their quality of life and stay out of the criminal court.

Roscoe noted that the City of Spokane already has such a court, and all its service providers are next door. The service providers aren’t there only for the people going to the court, Roscoe said, they are also there for the general public, so they can get the services they need before they even get into the criminal system.

“It’s a really good idea,” Roscoe said. “It’s kind of a one-stop-shop approach there for those types of services.”

A community court would meet about twice a week, depending on the need.

Because community court is a service King County is considering, any contracting city could not operate it independently.

“They haven’t established it yet, so it’s still in the exploratory stage,” Roscoe said.

King County is now taking representatives of cities who are interested in community court to Spokane to see how the thing works and observe, “kind of the good, the bad and the ugly that goes with it,” Roscoe said.

Councilman John Holman suggested that with Auburn’s population expected to reach 100,000 by the end of the next decade, it will need additional court space.

“I think … we should start looking at planning for a a new police department and district court or to separate the two. Not tomorrow or the next year. … We are busting at the seams. We had best start planning for what needs to occur,” Holman said.

Roscoe said space at the justice center is always an issue.

“They want more of it, we want to give them less of it so we have more space available for police and prosecution there,” Roscoe said.

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