Warning that “criminal cases would go unheard, criminals would go free,” Spokane County Superior Court judges on Tuesday asked for more money to finish the year.
Judge Michael Donohue, who made the request, got a lukewarm reception from two county commissioners and a cold shoulder from the third.
Donohue asked for $80,000 for jury costs and $6,713 for a state-mandated pay raise for the 11 judges.
Commissioners said the judges instead should cut $50,000 from other areas of their budget, including unspent money for travel, education and office furniture.
Donohue agreed to make the cuts, and Commissioners John Roskelley and Phil Harris agreed to pay the remaining $37,000.
Commissioner Kate McCaslin voted no.
In the polite but frank discussion that followed, McCaslin and Donohue clashed over her desire to control spending and his protectiveness for the court’s autonomy.
The court, McCaslin said, should do a better job of managing money.
Among other things, she wants more judges to videotape court proceedings, saving money on court reporters’ salaries.
Donohue and fellow judges Neal Reilly and James Murphy use the video equipment; other judges have refused. Murphy plans to stop using the cameras starting next year, Donohue said.
McCaslin promised to vote for the budget increase if four judges would pledge to use video equipment next year. Since judges are elected, withholding money is the only tool commissioners have for encouraging changes, she said.
Donohue said he sympathized with McCaslin’s desire to save money. But “you’re trying to put me in the spot of forcing the other judges to do things, and I don’t have the power to do that,” he said.
Donohue warned that the court could order the county to provide the money if commissioners didn’t provide it voluntarily.
“I understand that threat, and it is a threat,” said McCaslin.
“It’s a promise,” Donohue replied.