Search to begin for Benton-Franklin Superior Court judge

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJune 18, 2014 

Benton-Franklin Superior Court officials had been looking for a seventh judge, but will have to get by with five for a while.

Judge Sal Mendoza Jr. resigned Tuesday after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a federal judge for Eastern Washington, Superior Court Administrator Pat Austin said.

Gov. Jay Inslee will now have to appoint a replacement for Mendoza, who was on the bench for 13 months before moving to the federal level.

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said Wednesday that they will start taking applications for the job in the next few days and hope to have it filled within two to three months.

That will be different from when Mendoza took over, when the previous judge, Craig Matheson, gave enough notice for Inslee to appoint Mendoza and swear him in just a week after Matheson retired.

Court hearings will have to be spread apart so that the remaining judges can continue to be available, Austin said.

"It will slow us down a bit," she said.

Bruce Spanner, the presiding judge for Superior Court, briefly pitched a seventh judgeship at Wednesday's joint meeting of Benton and Franklin commissioners. No additional staff will need to be hired to support the judge, which would cost Benton County an extra $55,098 annually and Franklin County $21,566, he said.

Franklin County had put the seventh judge in its budget for 2014, only to have the idea shot down by Benton County.

"Don't look over here, we tried to add an extra judge this year," Franklin Commissioner Brad Peck told Spanner.

"Show me the money," Benton Commissioner Jerome Delvin responded.

Benton County, which works on a biennial budget, has been waiting until next year to consider funding the seventh judge. A proposed three-tenths of a percent sales tax on the Aug. 5 ballot would pay for the position.

Commissioners also approved New Mexico-based Dyron V. Murphy Architects PC, which also has a Seattle office, to complete a feasibility study for an expansion and renovation of the juvenile justice center in Kennewick, which was built in 1979.

Officials have said the detention area of the building was expanded in the late 1990s and doesn't need any renovations, but the courtroom and office areas are cramped and need heating and air conditioning upgrades.

"I need a safe and secure place for people that do the work for kids and families," said Darryl Banks, juvenile justice center administrator. "Right now I don't have that."

Commissioners were hopeful that the building would not cost too much.

"I don't want to be up here making a decision on a $10, $12, $14 million building we're not going to be able to pay for," Delvin said.

Franklin Commissioner Rick Miller said architects for the expansion and renovation of that county's jail initially came to them with a proposal for a $40 million facility. They were able to cut that down to $20 million.

"I see that as how it's going to work," he said.

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