Committee hears Klippert bill to add judges to Benton County court

Measure would help to relieve court backlog, judge testifies

District Court Judge Robert Ingvalson told the House Judiciary Committee Monday that two additional judges in Benton County would increase efficiency and provide for greater accountability because they would be elected positions.

Ingvalson was testifying in favor of House Bill 1204, a measure prime-sponsored by Rep. Brad Klippert that would allow two district court judges to be added in Benton County.

“We're trying to eliminate our two court commissioners and change them to district court judges. Commissioners are not elected and there's nothing like a performance evaluation of being elected. We want to change our commissioners to have that evaluation and hold them accountable by becoming elected officials,” said Ingvalson.

Ingvalson said district court judges are able to do more work for the public.

“Last year, this Legislature changed the duties and powers of court commissioners so they can do less than they used to be able to do. We're trying to increase our level of efficiency by having five people do the same work,” added Ingvalson. “It doesn't cost the state any money. It will be entirely absorbed by the county. The county presently pays court commissioners 90 percent of what they pay a district court judge. In exchange for the 10 percent increase in pay, we have an increase of efficiency by better than 40 percent, because they can do the work of judges.”

Ingvalson said once the two judge positions are added, the court commissioner positions would be eliminated.

“Both the federal and state mandate is for a speedy trial. If our defendants don't get a criminal charge and it is not brought to trial within a speedy period, it must be dismissed with prejudice. So with the backlog of trials we have in Benton County, this will be nothing but help to us to get defendants to a speedy trial,” noted Klippert, R-Kennewick.

“There's zero fiscal impact to the state. This just allows us in Benton County to have five judges, instead of three. The two court commissioners now become judges,” Klippert added. “The buildings are there. The support staff is there. It's a win-win proposition all the way around.

Committee members are scheduled to vote on the bill, Thursday, Jan. 22, at 10 a.m.


Washington State House Republican Communications