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Judge wants court to remain on Bainbridge

Kate Carruthers, judge for the Bainbridge Island Municipal Court, said that moving the court from Rolling Bay to Poulsbo would be disruptive to the community it serves and would not be cost-effective.

The City of Poulsbo has offered to share its courtroom space in its new city hall with Bainbridge Island, which is now in the process of compiling a report on the proposal for the Bainbridge City Council. Bainbridge’s efforts to reduce its expenditures during a prolonged financial crisis led to the formation of a task force made up of officials from both cities to see if the move is viable.

Poulsbo’s initial offer was to have Bainbridge enter into a five-year lease for the court space at $42,500 per year, though the amount is up for negotiations.

Tord Vestman, who owns the commercial office building that has housed the court for 19 years in the Rolling Bay Service Center area, has agreed to cut the annual rent to about $31,500 – down more than $13,000 from the $44,724 it now pays. The city rents 2,680 square feet of space for the court.

Mayor Bob Scales said that after the council receives a report from Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer it will discuss the issue on Oct. 6, followed by a public hearing on Oct. 13 and a possible decision a week later.

Carruthers, who has been the Bainbridge court’s judge for three and a-half years, said it would be a serious mistake.

“A municipal court belongs in the municipality that it serves,” she said this week. “A community this size needs a court. We deal with a lot of domestic violence and harassment cases where people are vulnerable. We also have a lot of probationary and review hearings. These are cases that take a lot of follow through and if the court is not here that just won’t happen as much.”

Carruthers believes most people are not familiar with the court’s workings and don’t realize how important it is to the community. The court handles a variety of issues, including those involving: criminal misdemeanors; code and ordinance violations; protection order hearings and trials; and contest/mitigation hearings for traffic and parking violations.

She said the court had 4,224 case filings last year and has become an important venue for victims of domestic violence and harassment, with about 70 such cases going through the court each year.

“The court reflects the values of this community,” she said. “If the services provided are outsourced then they won’t get the same level of service that they get here because there won’t be the same community investment. We have a lot of vulnerable people served by the court and any obstacle set in their path can stop them from getting help. A lot of these people aren’t supposed to be driving, some don’t have much money, and the bus situation is not the best.”

Carruthers is officially a part-time judge (0.63 FTE) working Monday through Wednesday, but she is often on-call for proceedings that need immediate attention. Besides the city-appointed judge, the court has 3.6 clerks, an administrator and a security officer.

“In Poulsbo we would be sharing the court, holding sessions every other day,” she said. “There wouldn’t be as much availability. For example, we have about 500 active probation or pre-trial diversion actions going through the court. It’s a very active court.”

Carruthers has long been an advocate for moving the court from its “temporary” home for a variety of reasons, including security issues and the fact it doesn’t meet city code for its use. But she would rather see it remain on Bainbridge – with the eventual goal of sharing a new law enforcement facility with police when that becomes financially feasible – than moved to Poulsbo. She’s afraid it would never return.

She said that for $15,000 the city could address several emergency issues that need immediate attention, such as improving the HVAC systems, and making the building more secure and accessible.

“They’ve been good tenants and have taken care of the building,” Vestman said. “We’ll do what we can to keep them here.”

The building also held the city’s planning department until the new city building was built several years ago in Winslow.

“No question that the new building in Poulsbo would be lovely,” she said. “And our function should be held in a dignified facility. But we’re not ashamed of it. We do the best we can. But moving would be a mistake because our service to the community would suffer.”

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