Lawmakers push to add juidicial position to Benton-Franklin Superior Court

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 18, 2013 

Several Mid-Columbia area lawmakers are sponsoring legislation to add a seventh judicial position in Benton-Franklin Superior Court.

And local court officials are cheering the development -- a step in the process of adding a judgeship.

"We're feeling very positive about it and are receiving a lot of support from the (state) Board of Judicial Administration and those who are sponsoring the bill over in Olympia for us," said Pat Austin, Superior Court administrator.

"We're very hopeful it will move through and be approved," she told the Herald.

The Tri-Cities has seen significant growth in recent years, and the swelling population means a bigger caseload and more complicated cases that take up court time, Austin said. The last bicounty Superior Court judicial post was added about a decade ago.

Republican Sens. Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla and Mark Schoesler of Ritzville are sponsoring the Senate bill, along with Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a Democrat from Seattle.

In the House, Reps. Terry Nealey, Larry Haler, Brad Klippert, Maureen Walsh, Joe Schmick and Susan Fagan have signed on as sponsors. They all are Republicans from the 8th, 9th or 16th legislative districts.

Even if the legislation eventually gains approval, an additional judge wouldn't necessarily come on board because Benton and Franklin counties have to agree to chip in money. The state would cover benefits and half the salary, and the two counties would be responsible for the other half.

Court officials have estimated the larger Benton County's share would be $54,900 annually and Franklin County's $19,500.

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