Renovation to make room for fourth Whatcom Superior Court judge to begin July 1

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 4, 2014 

Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig

Judge Ira Uhrig presides over a sentencing hearing Jan. 12, 2009, in Whatcom Superior Count in Bellingham.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - Renovations will begin next month in the Whatcom County Courthouse to make room for a fourth Superior Court judge.

Gov. Jay Inslee should appoint the new judge by late fall, county Executive Jack Louws said.

The County Council on Tuesday, June 3, accepted a bid from Faber Construction of Lynden to remodel the second and fifth floors of the courthouse for $949,000. The new courtroom will be on the second floor. Adding a cushion for unforeseen costs and sales tax, the county puts the total construction cost at $1.1 million.

The renovation is scheduled to begin July 1, Louws said, and completed around the first of the year - in time for the new judge to be seated in 2015.

The county had money available in the general fund to fully cover the cost of the work, Louws said.

"Staff did a wonderful job of holding down expenses, (which) gave us some extra money," Louws told the council on Tuesday.

Louws had found the extra money by April 2013, when Inslee signed the bill that authorized the fourth Superior Court judge. Sponsored by Rep. Kris Lytton, D-Anacortes, and Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, the bill easily passed both Houses.

"The Legislature recognized the fact that Whatcom County has been long overdue for a fourth judge," Ericksen said at the time. The county has had three Superior Court judges since 1972, and the population has tripled since then.

The state and county each pay half the salary of superior court judges, which will be $156,363 at the start of 2015. The state pays for benefits, and the county pays all associated expenses, including court staff.

Judge Charles Snyder has said the fourth judge will reduce delays, especially in civil cases, which are lower priority than criminal cases.

Superior courts handle civil and family cases, felony and juvenile crimes, and involuntary mental commitments.

Though Inslee will make the initial judicial appointment, the judge's seat will be on the ballot at the next general election.

Faber Construction's most recent public project was the Ferndale Public Library on Main Street, according to the company's website.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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