Three people are running in the Aug. 7 primary for Whatcom County Superior Court judge, a position that will face the challenges of reduced funding and growing caseloads.
Lawyers Carrie Coppinger Carter and Deborra Garrett and District Court Judge David Grant are competing for the position being vacated by Judge Steven Mura, who announced he would retire this year.
Each of the candidates responded to The Bellingham Herald's questions about their experience, their views on issues facing the court and their ideas for how to improve the courts during their tenure. Here are some excerpts from their answers.
When asked about the biggest challenges they could face, all three candidates acknowledged that shortfalls in funding for the court system and increased caseloads are at the top of the list.
Those budget issues are adversely affecting court operations, staffing and programs, Coppinger Carter said. To alleviate the crunch, she said she would collect information from other courts and work with fellow judges, the court administrator and the county executive to devise a joint plan that would address current and anticipated growth issues.
Garrett said those budget and caseload issues could be addressed by increasing the efficiency of the court's administration to maximize the time judges spend hearing cases. That can be done by improving motion calendars and trial scheduling, she said, and requiring advance preparation for jury trials to make the best use of jury time.
Grant said budget issues caused him to focus on the core functions of the District Court, and he would apply the lessons he learned there to Superior Court as well.
All three candidates also support the addition of a fourth Superior Court judge to Whatcom County, which has had three Superior Court judges for more than 35 years.
"The county population and court caseload are both nearly twice what they were then," Garrett said, adding that Skagit County has four judges and doesn't have nearly the backlog of cases that Whatcom County does.
Those unresolved cases aren't good for the people involved, Grant said, and that can have a ripple effect on the local economy as well as the justice system. Rescheduling cases costs time and money for everyone involved, he said.
Whatcom County should get the ball rolling now on the fourth judge position, Coppinger Carter said. She'd like to see the position established legislatively but would hold off pushing for the funding until the economy improves.
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