Senate approves Sheldon bill to address growth, add third Mason County judge

Senate Floor DebateMason County is one step closer to adding a third superior court judge to help ease a trial backlog, thanks to the Senate’s unanimous approval of a bill sponsored by Sen. Tim Sheldon.

There are two superior court judges in Mason County, but county growth and a consistently high number of monthly court filings prompted Sheldon to introduce Senate Bill 5981.

Criminal trials take priority over civil cases, causing civil trials to be delayed – or worse yet, handled piecemeal as time allows. Sheldon says citizens are becoming increasingly frustrated about their limited access to the court to address civil matters.

The backlog stems from the 20,000-plus residents Mason County has added in the 22 years since Sheldon, then a state representative, introduced similar legislation to increase the number of superior court judges to two.

“Growth in Mason County is a good thing, but we need to make sure we are providing adequate support at the county level to handle the effects of such growth,” said Sheldon, D-Potlatch. “Nearly 30 percent of all civil trials are delayed, often for more than a year, and residents are left with a hefty attorney expense at the end of it all.”

In addition to representing 35th District residents on the state level, Sheldon also serves as Mason County commissioner, an office he has held since 2005. Fellow commissioner Terri Jeffreys agrees that the addition of a third judge is critical.

“Our criminal trial load is very heavy, forcing too many civil trials to be delayed months and months,” said Jeffreys.  “These civil cases have huge impacts on people’s lives – issues like custody, dependency and property disputes. Cases need to be resolved so people can get on with their lives. It is unacceptable for people to be held in limbo for so long.”

Sheldon said Mason County is willing and able, with the state, to cover the cost of the third judge. “We have the facilities and personnel to handle the new position, and I think the residents of Mason County would be glad to see that we heard their frustrations and made every effort to reduce the trial backlog.”

Senate Bill 5981 now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.