Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Liberty Lake will wait on adding municipal court

Liberty Lake’s City Council rejected a resolution that would have put it on a fast-track to creating its own municipal court system.

The resolution – up for vote on Tuesday night — would have given Spokane County notice that Liberty Lake was canceling an agreement for the county to provide its municipal court service.

Municipal courts hear misdemeanor cases, including traffic infractions, domestic violence and drunk driving

After a lively debate, council members agreed the move was premature.

“There are a lot of facts that we would need to consider before we do our own community court,” said Councilman Patrick Jenkins, who compared starting a municipal service to opening a new business.

The city currently contracts with Spokane County to provide its court services.

Liberty Lake was under the gun to make a decision to give notice because the county staffs courtrooms with elected judges.

Cities which aren’t renewing agreements can only cancel the contracts when it allows the county enough time to plan for upcoming elections. If the city wanted to start a court in 2007, the deadline to give notice is Feb. 1.

In postponing the decision the next time the city could start its own court is 2010. However, the council agreed that taking additional time was better than risking loss or interruption of court service.

The council based its decision, in part, on a report by Liberty Lake Police Chief Brian Asmus. The report gave compelling reasons to start a court and compared costs and revenues for operating courts in cities that share similar caseloads to Liberty Lake’s.

Asmus said a local court would offer citizens and police greater convenience and give the city a chance to address quality of life infractions that larger courts ignore.

City Administrator Lewis Griffin said a local court would save money because the county doesn’t use home monitoring as an alternative to jail time.

However, Councilwoman Judi Owens questioned the validity of Griffin’s statement, saying she knew of someone serving a home monitoring sentence issued by a county judge.

During a Wednesday interview, John Witter, Spokane County District Court operations manager, said county municipal courts are increasingly using home monitoring sentences, because of overcrowding in the jails.

“We definitely do alternative sentences. It’s kind of essential,” Witter said.

Owens also expressed concerns that officers would lose a half day or more of their workdays if the city started its own court.

Every time an incarcerated suspect was arraigned, police would have to pick up the suspect in Spokane, drive to Liberty Lake for the hearing and then head back to Spokane.

The council agreed to reconsider the option after doing more research.

“I don’t want this to die,” Councilman David Crump said. “I see some real benefits to this. I just don’t have enough information.”

Sewer plant on schedule

Liberty Lake’s sewer treatment is proceeding as planned, commissioner Frank Boyle told the City Council.

Construction of the $13 million plant, which costs $11 million to construct and $2 million to design, started over a month ago.

During a break in the meeting, Boyle said winter weather has only halted construction for two days.

Thus far, 1,000 cubic yards of concrete have been poured, in addition to digging out a double aeration basin and starting work on a de-watering building.

Pedestrian bridge a go for March

The Department of Transportation officially hired contractor Max J. Kuney Co. to build the pedestrian bridge. Liberty Lake is handling the site preparation and plans to get started in March.