The longer the feud between elected officials in Franklin County continues, the more disgraceful it appears.
Is it stubbornness fueling the dispute? Pride? Spite? A mix of these, perhaps?
Taxpayers should not be put on the hook for such vices, but that appears to be what’s happening.
Tensions between Franklin County Clerk Michael Killian and the seven Benton-Franklin Superior Court judges blew up early this year when Killian decided to go to a paperless court record system.
He warned the judges ahead of time that his office was headed in that direction, noting the electronic program is cheaper and more efficient.
The judges, however, want Killian to follow the local rules they established for the court and keep hard copies as a backup to the digital files. When he didn’t do as they asked, they sued to force him to comply.
Eventually Killian agreed to provide paper copies of court records when judges asked for them. Officials hoped the conciliatory move would lead the judges to withdraw their suit.
This should have been the end of this unfortunate saga. Even Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant thought the compromise would end the dispute, and he revoked the status of the attorney assigned to the judges.
But then the judges reinstated that attorney's deputy prosecutor status so the lawsuit could continue.
Sant has petitioned the Washington State Supreme Court to review whether the judges had the authority to make such an appointment, especially when it serves their own interests.
Just last week the Herald found out that the attorney representing the judges already has billed the county for more than $13,000 in fees.
That’s a ton of tax money being used just to win an argument, and the total bill Franklin County residents will end up paying for this mess is sure to be much higher.
What is worse, the conflict also has interrupted the business of the court.
Benton-Franklin Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom missed two morning dockets on June 22, forcing people to reschedule their court dates.
Sant’s petition to the state’s highest court led to the dramatic courtroom no-show because the judges were concerned that hearing cases involving Sant could be considered an ethics violation under the code of judicial conduct.
The judges sought advice from the executive director of the state Judicial Conduct Commission, who informed them later that day they did not need to recuse themselves from Franklin County cases.
It is a shame the judges didn’t get that advice before Ekstrom missed his hearings. The public deserves better.
We have written twice before in our opinion section that this power struggle in Franklin County needs to end, but personalities seem to be getting in the way of compromise.
Taxpayers are paying the price because smart, determined elected officials insist on going to court to work out their differences.
We are not impressed.