Council budget chair Jean Godden
As anticipated, the city council voted unanimously today to eliminate one municipal court judge to help fill an anticipated $50 million shortfall next year. The 7-0 vote (Bruce Harrell and Tim Burgess were absent) came despite harsh criticism from muni court presiding judge Edsonya Charles, who argued that the council had failed to adequately consider municipal judges' caseloads in making their decision; at a budget briefing last week, however, council central staff director Ben Noble noted that he has heard anecdotally that municipal courtrooms are frequently dark during the day.
Speaking before the vote, council budget chair Jean Godden said, "The decision to pass this bill definitely was not an easy one, and I'm afraid it is the first of many tough decisions ahead. It is not about the court. It is about the budget. It is also about the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression."
The council prioritized voting on the judge position over other budget cuts because the filing deadline for this year's municipal court elections is June 7, the same day the legislation takes effect.
Although council member Sally Bagshaw—a former prosecutor for King County—expressed interest in restoring the judge position once the economy recovers, Godden warned that many departments that are being cut are going to come asking the council for more money once things improve. "A lot of the departments in the city are going to have cuts that are just as difficult and just as devastating as this one," Godden said, "and we know that they will come back to us in good times and hope that we can restore programs.:\"