Benton County commissioners agree to support adding judge position

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 9, 2013 

Benton County commissioners Tuesday again heard a request from Benton-Franklin Superior Court to formally support a seventh judge position.

And this time, they agreed.

The unanimous vote came during commissioners' first meeting of the year. Superior Court officials first made the request last month, but commissioners wanted to wait until their new colleague came on board. Commissioner Jerome Delvin won election in the fall and took office this month.

He replaces longtime Commissioner Leo Bowman, who retired in December.

Delvin and commissioners Jim Beaver and Shon Small voted Tuesday to sign a letter to the state Board for Judicial Administration supporting the additional judicial slot. Franklin County commissioners took similar action late last year.

Signing the letter doesn't guarantee another judge position will be added, but it will help in the process of trying to get state legislative support.

It also doesn't commit commissioners to funding the position; that decision would come later.

After the meeting, Beaver and Small noted county officials just navigated a projected $2.7 million shortfall in the 2013-14 operating budget.

"We'll have to wait and see down the road" whether there's money for another judge, Beaver said.

In Benton-Franklin Superior Court, the state covers judges' benefits and half their salaries, with the two counties picking up the other half. The larger Benton County pays a larger amount -- its share for the seventh judgeship would total $54,900 annually, court officials have estimated.

Franklin County's share would be an estimated $19,500, they have said.

Superior Court officials point to the growing caseload as the reason another judgeship is needed. It's been about 10 years since the last judicial position was added.

Also Tuesday:

w Small was selected as chairman of the board of commissioners this year. His duties will include running commissioner meetings.

Small is in his first term as commissioner. He was picked to be chairman as commissioners settled on the committees and boards they'll serve on this year.

Small said after the meeting that he's glad to have "two seasoned vets" in Beaver and Delvin to assist him in his chairman duties.

Delvin, a longtime state senator who's stepping down to serve as a commissioner, will act as chairman pro tem. Beaver was chairman last year.

w Delvin proposed making some changes to commissioners' weekly Tuesday meetings, including adding periodic updates from other county elected officials and regular reports from department heads.

"I think it benefits us to have more interaction with staff," Delvin said during the meeting.

Elected officials and department heads in the audience said they support the idea, and the other commissioners indicated they like it, too.

Commissioners also talked about meeting soon to discuss goals for 2013.

w Beaver asked his fellow commissioners to consider supporting an effort to keep a federal judge position in Richland. U.S. District Court Judge Ed Shea is going to a senior judge status and a new full-time judge will be appointed to the district, which includes Yakima and Spokane. A county staffer will draft a letter for the commissioners to review.

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