Municipal courts are those created by cities and towns. Violations of municipal or city ordinances are heard in municipal courts. A municipal court's authority over these ordinance violations is similar to the authority that district courts have over state law violations. The ordinance violation must have occurred within the boundaries of the municipality. Like district courts, municipal courts only have jurisdiction over gross misdemeanors, misdemeanors and infractions. Municipal courts do not accept civil or small claims cases. As with district courts, municipal courts can issue domestic violence protection orders and no-contact orders. A municipal court can issue anti-harassment protection orders upon adoption of a local court rule establishing that process. More than two million cases are filed annually in district and municipal courts. Excluding parking infractions, seven out of every eight cases filed in all state courts are filed at this level. This is due primarily to the broad jurisdiction these courts have over traffic violations and misdemeanors.
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Edmonds Municipal Court judge since 2015; Minority and Justice Commission member; 8 years as a Snohomish County Public Defender; Law Clerk to Washington State Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Dwyer and Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George Bowden; 13 years as a journalist at the Seattle Times.
During the two years I have been the Edmonds Municipal Court judge, I have worked hard to be the kind of judge the community can be proud of and to ensure a level playing field for everyone who comes to the court seeking justice. Community courts tend to be the one and only place most people interact with the justice system, and I think it is extremely important that the impressions they leave with are positive. I believe my past life experiences and my commitment to a strong and independent judiciary make me the type of judge the people of Edmonds deserve. I continue to explore alternative ways to address the underlying issues driving criminal behavior – substance abuse and untreated mental health issues in particular. I have always made public service a priority in my careers. As a 25-year resident of Edmonds, I would be honored to continue serving my community as its judge.
Some of the greatest challenges courts face in administering justice are poverty and untreated mental health issues. Many of those involved in the criminal justice system have underlying issues (substance abuse/mental health) that contribute to their criminal acts. If they do not have the means to get the help they need, they are likely to continue to be caught in the system over and over again.
Too often poverty plays a role in why some criminal defendants are not able to assure the court that they will make it to their court appearances, which leads to high numbers of low-level non-violent offenders incarcerated before they have been convicted. Often those in jail who are at risk of losing their housing or a minimum wage job they just secured choose to plead guilty to get out of jail more quickly rather than taking their case to trial, even against their own attorney’s advice. Courts must be open to bail reform and innovative ways to address this issue.
Most trial court judges would like to be able to assess a defendant’s ability to pay fines and fees when imposing these obligations as part of a sentencing requirement. This is often very difficult to do during a busy court hearing. During my first term in office, I created a tool in my court to make these assessments. Through a grant obtained from the Department of Justice, the Minority and Justice Commission hopes to turn this tool into a user-friendly application that trial judges statewide can use. This will be of great benefit to both the courts and litigants.
I also am working to move the Edmonds Municipal Court to become “paperless,” which will be more efficient for the courts, litigants, attorneys, and the public.
Finally, I expect to create a more appropriate and efficient way of screening applicants for court-appointed counsel.
In addition to many years of experience in legal research and writing, my previous life as a public defender has given me valuable courtroom experience witnessing the challenges indigent people face in the criminal justice system. Having grown up in a diverse military-based community in Nebraska as well as having worked in a diverse newsroom in my first career in journalism, I have life experiences that give me an important perspective. My love of learning and openness to new ideas fuel my continued effort to look for ways to improve the courts, and in turn, our community.