Mason County earns third superior court judge to help address trial backlog

Sheldon_5981 Bill SigningAfter earning near-unanimous support in the Senate and House of Representatives, Sen. Tim Sheldon’s bill authorizing a thirdsuperior courtjudge for Mason County has received the governor’s endorsement.

Between a trial backlog and the subsequent growing frustrations from citizens about trial delays, a thirdjudge is a long-overdue and much-needed addition, Sheldon says, considering Mason County has grown by more than 20,000 peoplesince its court expanded to two judges 22 years ago.

Sheldon said he became aware of the need for a thirdjudge after being elected Mason Countycommissioner in 2005.

“This bill is a great example of how my job as a statesenator supports the work I do on the county level and vice versa – it’s a mutually beneficial situation and the result is stronger, more targeted legislation for the residents of the 35th District,” said Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

“Mason County has a consistently high number of monthly court filings and our criminal-trial load is extremely heavy. In 2012 Mason County had 53 criminal trials whereas IslandCounty only had eight. Becausecriminal cases take priority overcivil cases, residents have to wait, often for more than a year, for their civil disputes to be resolved.

“I am glad that the Legislature recognized the critical need for a third judge so that we can start addressing the trial backlog this year.”

Backed by a recommendation from the state Board for Judicial Administration, a third judgewill provide the county with more flexibility and efficiency. The BJA based its recommendation on an annual objective workload analysis developed by the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

The cost for the third judgewill be shared between Mason County and the state. Sheldon said the county is preparing the facilities and already has the personnel to support the new position. The change made by Senate Bill 5981 takes effect June 12.