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Municipal Court candidates have little judicial experience

The three nominees to serve as Spokane’s new judges say they’re confident their new court will be ready for business on Jan. 2.

“It’s a great opportunity to start something from scratch,” said nominee Tracy Staab. “I’m hoping that we can create a municipal court that sets the standard.”

Among the three whose names will be forwarded to the City Council, none has served as a judge in a permanent capacity. Nominees said that while experience is important, there also is an advantage to starting with a fresh perspective.

“One of the fundamental questions should be, ‘What works?’ ” nominee Shelley Szambelan said. “Just because something’s been done a certain way for a long time doesn’t mean it’s the best way.”

Before Spokane leaders made the final decision to separate the city court from the county, city and county officials negotiated for months to maintain a partnership.

County commissioners say they’re hopeful that a more efficient, combined court remains in the future. The city and county will move forward with an expanded combined mental health court next year, but other consolidation proposals have been put on hold.

The city’s decision to move ahead with elections this year will lock the city into an independent court for at least four years. All three of Verner’s choices said they will be candidates in 2009 elections.

County commissioners, who opposed the city’s split, agreed to allow the city to use the Courthouse annex for its new court, but say rates may go up next year.

The separation is “a large step backwards in terms of moving toward a more streamlined court that would better serve our citizens,” said County Commissioner Bonnie Mager.

Staab said the new court will work to protect people’s rights and public safety “and at the same time reduce costs to the city and provide resources to people who need it and not be so quick to just throw people in jail.” She said there’s good reason for the city to maintain local control of its courts.

“We are the second largest city in the state,” Staab said. “We should have all three branches of government.”

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