PORT ANGELES — Candidates for Superior Court judge Position 2 could not agree on whether a backlog of cases exists in the county’s court system during a League of Women Voters forum Tuesday night.
Brian Coughenour of Port Angeles, who was appointed to the post in 2015, insisted there is no backlog and that the current system works.
Dave Neupert, a District Court pro tem judge who retired from Platt Irwin Law Firm in December, also from Port Angeles, disagreed.
Neupert said Clallam County Superior Court misuses omnibus hearings, creating a backlog of cases and constant hearings.
“One solution and one step in the solution is to set a schedule and stick to that schedule,” Neupert said. “I will work to establish compliance with the omnibus hearing.”
Coughenour said there is no backlog of criminal cases in Superior Court and that he uses status hearings to move cases forward.
“The status hearing process is working and continues to work,” he said, calling it a device to resolve cases.
Coughenour credited frequent status hearings to increasing the number of guilty pleas and reducing the number of cases that go to trial.
“I require them to come back every week,” he said. “That’s why we have so many pleas and we resolve so many cases without costs to the taxpayers.”
He also pointed to the court’s specialty courts, such as Drug Court, saying they can create the appearance of a backlog.
In Drug Court, cases have been open as long as 800 days, he said.
“In a small community like ours, we don’t just process people,” he said. “The best result isn’t always the fastest result.”
Neupert said he is particularly concerned with a high number of probate cases, saying Clallam County is among the counties in Washington with a high number of probate cases that have been open for more than three years.
Probate court primarily deals with wills, estates, conservatorships and guardianships.
Neupert was asked to explain to Coughenour what he means when he says there is a backlog.
He said in 2015, Clallam County had 282 probate cases open longer than three years, while King County had 27.
Ninety percent of probate cases should be resolved within 90 days, Neupert said, referring to a statewide standard.
Though the candidates were asked about the backlogs three times, Coughenour repeatedly said he doesn’t know what backlog Neupert was talking about.
Coughenour said he has dealt with six pleas of guilty, including three expected Wednesday morning, in the past few days and that the court is resolving cases as they come up.
“I’m not aware of a backlog,” Coughenour said. “We don’t have a backlog in Clallam County.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].