Clallam court's pay-or-appear program scaled back

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A pay-or-appear program that has been a cornerstone of Rick Porter's 13-year tenure as Clallam County District Court judge has been scaled back after it was expanded in 2009.

Under the program, which Porter instituted after he took office in 2002, misdemeanor offenders pledge to pay a fine instead of serving jail time, with the option of doing community service instead of paying that fine.

Breaking the terms of the agreement can land the scofflaw in Clallam County jail for a night.

Now, community service is off the table under a policy Porter established as of Jan. 1.

There will be exceptions, though they are few.

“If they can show they are indigent and something is going on — on a case-by-case basis, we will look at that,” said Porter, adding, “It's not going to be a blanket policy.”

The community service option, in which offenders work for community organizations, nursing homes and the like, has cost the county about $200,000 in revenue that would have otherwise been paid in fines, while the community has gained about $100,000 worth of work, Porter estimated.

The program's reduction took the community-service option off the table for three to four dozen people since the beginning of this year, Porter said Monday.

Porter said he expanded the community-service option four years ago during the Great Recession.

“A lot of people were opting to do community service rather than pay fines,” Porter said.

“Now that things are starting to turn around a little bit, it's time to go back to the way it was.”

There already appears to be an increase in revenue from fines, Porter said.

In downsizing the program, Porter eliminated two clerical positions and a half-time probation officer, totalling $142,241 in wages and benefits, he said.

The clerical positions were transferred to Superior Court, the probation officer retired and an existing full-time District Court position was split between Superior and District courts.

In another cost-cutting move, probation will be limited — with some exceptions — to defendants charged with driving under the influence and fourth-degree assault-domestic violence.

“Those are the ones who cause the biggest concern for public safety,” Porter said.

“With the limited resources we have, those are the ones we'll be focused on.”

In addition, the District Court clerical staff will no longer track Superior Court's pay-or-appear program.

They also will no longer maintain a separate District Court program database, instead employing a state database that already has increased efficiency, Porter said.

With the cuts and consolidating functions, “I'm not expecting any reductions in pay-or-appear at all,” Porter said.

“There will be a little reduction in probation [revenue], but that's all.”

Porter won re-election to a third, four-year term in 2010 by a landslide, automatically winning office in the primary by gaining 57.3 percent of the vote against Port Angeles challengers Tim Davis, a state assistant attorney general, and Pam Lindquist, a lawyer.

The pay-or-appear program was criticized by some, such as Davis, for creating what they claimed was essentially a debtors prison.

Upon winning re-election in 2010, he told Peninsula Daily News that he did not plan to change a program that drew widespread support among voters he said he had spoken with during the campaign.

“Everything is dynamic and everything changes depending on what is going on in the economy,” Porter said Monday.

“Things have improved, so we're going back to the way things were always run.”

Porter notified Clallam County commissioners that he was making the changes to District Court in writing Nov. 30, too late to incorporate into the 2013 budget.

Notice of the budget reductions is included on the commissioners' agenda for today's meeting at 10 a.m. at the county Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St.

Commissioners are scheduled to adopt the reductions March 26.



Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 04. 2013 6:14PM
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