On August 14th, the County Council adopted an ordinance sponsored by Councilmember Balducci that will shorten the time it takes to appoint new District Court judges by about half. Andrew J. Prazuch, the Executive Director of the King County Bar Association, called the streamlining effort “a long overdue housekeeping project that the bar is delighted to see addressed.”
King County District Court is the people’s court. With 25 judges, it serves residents in unincorporated King County and 12 contract cities and handles approximately 250,000 cases every year, including traffic infractions, small claims, anti-harassment and domestic violence protection orders, death inquests, and misdemeanor crimes.
Since the beginning of 2016, the County Council has appointed five new District Court judges. The experience, skill and diversity of the candidates has been high, but it has taken six to nine months to fill a vacancy, which is too long.
To insure well qualified people are appointed to the bench, the Council relies on the various bar associations around the county to rate potential candidates on a scale from unqualified to outstanding. Under the old process, every time a new vacancy was posted people would rush to get rated and the bar associations would have to gear up a rating process. It would be months before all the applications were submitted to Council. The new process will require candidates to submit their applications within 65 days of the vacancy being posted, which means candidates will have to get bar ratings before a vacancy occurs. Since most bar ratings are good for three years, candidates should have an opportunity to apply for a seat on the bench after being rated.
Adding the six weeks it usually takes Council to interview and select a judge after receiving applications, means that the entire time for an appointment should now be less than four months. Streamlining the process for appointments means the Council and candidates can spend less time on process and, most importantly, vacancies on the Court will be filled more quickly.
The ordinance won’t take effect until 90 days after it is enacted to give potential candidates and the bar associations time to adjust. So, if you think you might want to be a District Court judge now is a great time to get rated so you’ll be ready to apply when the next vacancy occurs.