Franklin County Commissioners were spot on when they decided to hold off paying future legal fees in the court case between the county clerk and Benton-Franklin Superior Court judges.
Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, Franklin County taxpayers will be the biggest losers if this dispute can’t be settled outside a courtroom.
The judges have sued Franklin County Clerk Michael Killian over his decision to forgo maintaining physical folders and fully embrace a paperless court records system.
They want the clerk’s office to continue to keep hard copies as a backup to the digital files, but Killian stopped that practice at the beginning of the year.
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The judges have claimed the electronic records system is unreliable and could affect the due process rights of the defendants. Killian is trying save money in his department and adopt what he believes is a more efficient system.
It’s a shame they couldn’t work out their differences, because this certainly seems like a dispute that could be resolved without an expensive court battle.
Both sides need to listen to the county commission and settle this before lawyer fees get any higher.
At least $4,500 has been spent to represent the judges so far, and estimates are it will cost $5,000 to take the case to court and another $5,000 to take it through the appellate process.
What a useless waste.
Commissioners recently asked the judges what it would take to make them comfortable with the paperless records system.
After all, Killian has been moving to the digital “Odyssey” record system since 2015. By the end of the year, 37 of the 39 counties in Washington state will be using it, and the federal court system has used a paperless records system since 1999.
As it happens, neighboring Benton County still maintains paper court records, so the bi-county judges have no quarrel on that side of the river.
Perhaps more could have been done to prepare the judges for the transition in Franklin County. From a public perspective, it appears the breakdown between the judges and Killian came out of nowhere.
At least one of the attorneys involved in the case has his doubts the two sides can work it out without going forward with the lawsuit. Tumwater attorney W. Dale Kamerrer represents the judges and has said the dispute is beyond mediation, and that pursuing that route would be costly detour.
We hope that is not the case.
At a recent Franklin County Commission meeting, Chairman Brad Peck said, “I think there’s an opportunity to resolve this without the citizens of Franklin County funding a lawsuit against themselves, which I find offensive.”
Killian and the judges are wasting valuable taxpayer money with this lawsuit. They need to work out their differences without going to court.