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Franklin County’s courthouse squabble just got more complicated — and expensive

The Washington State Supreme Court says the Franklin County’s battle between judges and the county clerk over paperless court records can proceed.
The Washington State Supreme Court says the Franklin County’s battle between judges and the county clerk over paperless court records can proceed. Tri-City Herald

Franklin County’s unprecedented battle over paperless court records will now be fought in two courts after an airing before the Washington State Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court has lifted a stay, allowing the main case to proceed in Superior Court. A dispute it spawned between the judges and county Prosecutor Shawn Sant will continue at the state’s highest court level.

Already the legal fees are expected to total about $23,000. The taxpayer share is part of the dispute.

The case began in March when the seven Benton-Franklin Superior Court judges sued Franklin County Clerk Michael Killian to force him to maintain paper records in addition to the electronic ones.

The suit touched off a sprawling legal battle that pulled in the Franklin County’s elected commissioners and prosecutor.

A motion for summary judgment on the suit is set for Dec. 7 in Kittitas County Superior Court.

The case triggered secondary fights about legal fees and the right of the prosecutor to appoint special deputies to serve under him.

In April, the Franklin County Commission voted to stop paying W. Dale Kamerrer, an Olympia attorney, to represent the judges.

Kamerrer was appointed a special deputy prosecutor in Franklin County when officials hoped the record keeping dispute could be resolved amicably.

Commissioners, who control the county finances, said they’re obligated to support Killian since he is being sued in his official capacity by the judges.

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The case began in March when the seven Benton-Franklin Superior Court judges sued Franklin County Clerk Michael Killian to force him to maintain paper records in addition to the electronic ones. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

But they’re not obligated to pay to sue themselves.

As a result, Sant revoked Kamerrer’s special deputy status.

The judges countered with an order reappointing Kamerrer and ordering that Sant pay his fees. The order was issued with no public notice or hearing and caught county officials by surprise, they said.

Sant said the judges overstepped their authority and asked the state’s highest court to review the order.

Washington law, he said, says only prosecutors can appoint special deputies unless there they are unable to do the job.

The Supreme Court stayed the original case and the Kamerrer order while it considered if it would accept Sant’s petition for a review.

It recently agreed to review the appointment and set a schedule for the two sides to file briefs. Oral arguments have not been scheduled.

The upshot is that while the case can proceed in Superior Court, Kamerrer’s special deputy status remains in legal limbo.

Wednesday, Kamerrer said he still represents the judges. His compensation is being deferred until the matter is resolved, he said.

Kamerrer has estimated that it would cost an additional $10,000 in legal fees to resolve the paperless records case, in addition to $13,000 in work done before the county said it would no longer pay.

The records dispute centers on Killian’s move to Odyssey, the electronic records system being implemented in all but two Washington counties this year.

Killian announced late last year he would make the move and stop keeping paper files. The judges ordered him to keep maintaining the files but he made the move anyway.

Killian, backed by the Washington Association of County Clerks, asserts the decision rests with the elected clerk, not the court. Killian has offered to provide paper copies of court documents to judges who want them.

At one point this summer, the judges questioned if they should hear cases presented by the prosecutor while the issue is still undecided. But they concluded it would not be a conflict of interest.

The Benton County Clerk’s Office has migrated to Odyssey but is not part of the dispute because it has not gone completely paperless.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514

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