Thursday, September 3, 2009

In a ruling that avoids a criminal justice migraine for Spokane, the state Supreme Court Reverses Appeals Court on Judicial Jurisdiction Case.

In a 9-0 decision published this morning, the Washington Supreme Court has reversed a state court of appeals panel’s conclusion that a Spokane County district court judge had no right to decide local, municipal court cases. The complicated ruling reinstates the convictions of Lawrence Rothwell and Henry Smith who, with the Center’s assistance, had appealed their 2005 convictions in proceedings before Spokane District Court Judge Patti Walker.

The reach of today’s opinion goes well beyond the convictions of Rothwell and Smith. Had the Supreme Court upheld the appeals court ruling, it would have called into question virtually every conviction in Spokane County over a fourteen year period in which district court judges, like Walker, had ruled on prosecutions of Spokane municipal code violations. Thus, today’s ruling spared the city the ordeal of possibly retrying countless cases, at a cost that may have reached into the millions of dollars for city taxpayers.

“We are thrilled with the outcome in this case,” said Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, upon learning of the court’s unanimous decision. “This is a win for the City and its taxpayers.”

Still, the obvious silver-lining in the Rothwell/Smith litigation for both sides is Mayor Verner’s decision, in the wake of the court of appeals ruling, to forge ahead and create a separate Municipal Court for city cases as the law, currently, requires. The new municipal court opened for business in January of this year and, by all accounts, has proven a remarkable success with three new appointed judges. Candidates for the three positions will go to Spokane city voters in this fall’s election.

Full article here.

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