More days for cases from city attorney's offices offered in Clallam County District Court 1

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County District Court 1 will now provide more timely access to the city attorney's offices of Port Angeles and Sequim and the county prosecuting attorney's office, District Court Judge Rick Porter announced Wednesday.

“That will start immediately,” he said.

New hearing days

Port Angeles cases were heard only on Tuesdays, Sequim's cases were restricted to Thursdays, while cases originating in unincorporated areas went before District Court on Fridays.

Porter said that now, Port Angeles cases can be heard Mondays through Thursdays, county cases can go before the court Mondays and Wednesdays through Fridays, and Sequim cases can be heard all five days.

The move comes after Port Angeles City Council members heard during a Tuesday evening work session that jail costs for city municipal court cases paid by the city are expected to be $340,000 over the budgeted amount of $650,000 for 2014.

That means about $990,000 in expected jail costs for 2014, a number that has steadily increased since 2008, according to city figures.

One factor contributing to the amount paid is the time the city attorney's office has to wait to bring defendants to hearings.

With the change in place, City Attorney Bill Bloor said his office can bring cases to city court on more days, which would reduce the amount of time defendants spend in jail.

“So having that ability on more days is a good thing,” Bloor said.

Case load drops

While costs have risen, the number of cases handled by the attorney's office has dropped from 1,012 in 2008 to 783 in 2013, Bloor said.

The drop is because the city Police Department and the attorney's office are scrutinizing each case more closely while determining which warrants prosecution, Bloor said.

Part of the reason for the cost increase is that jail time per case has increased, he said.

Although some of that was due to the tight access to District Court, there are other reasons.

“That's the part that's complex, and you can't just say it's this one factor here or that one factor over there,” Bloor said.

Factors include the days defendants spend in jail waiting for the conclusion of their case and any jail time defendants are sentenced to serve, he said.

Bloor said the city pays $75 daily per person for time spent in the Clallam County jail and about $45 daily per person in the Forks city jail.

The city has contracts with both the Forks city jail and the county jail.

Porter, who attended the meeting, said he understands the city's concerns about rising jail costs.

“I think they made some good steps in identifying some of the issues, and now I think we can work together to resolve them,” he said.

When Porter is hearing city cases, Bloor said, he is acting as a municipal judge for the city of Port Angeles.

Forks cases go before District Court 2.

Changing guidelines

At Tuesday's work session, city staff presented proposed charging and sentencing guidelines intended to help reduce jail costs for the remainder of 2014.

No action was taken at Tuesday's meeting.

The council will consider recommendations July 15 when they meet at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St.

Bloor said if the city adopts the guidelines and the judge follows them, “then that would result in fewer jail days on property crimes.”

Property crimes include trespassing and shoplifting.

Ways of reducing jail time for property crimes include higher thresholds for the amount of property stolen, declining to file some trespassing charges and recommending community service or electronic home monitoring in place of jail time.

“We're not giving up on the idea that offenders should be accountable, but putting them in jail is just one way for them to be held accountable,” Bloor said.

He said his office will continue to prioritize violent crimes, such as fourth-degree assault or malicious mischief.

Since Jan. 1, the city attorney's office has handled 84 shoplifting cases, with an average jail sentence of 22 days, Bloor said.

In the same time period, the office has handled 17 fourth-degree assault cases, with an average jail sentence of 3.2 days.

Councilwoman Sissi Bruch asked why.

“The proportions are completely off,” she said.

Bloor said each case is different.

“You can't attribute this to a single factor,” he said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 25. 2014 7:48PM
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