Published January 23, 2013
State's top justice calls McCleary decision very complex and difficult challengeBY JIMMY LOVAAS
State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Madsen delivered the State of the Judiciary address Wednesday during a joint session of the Legislature, calling the coming legislative session challenging.The annual address, delivered on the floor of the Senate chambers, outlines what issues and goals the states high court sees ahead and what accomplishments or setbacks the court has seen over the past year.The full State of the Judiciary address can be seen on TVW"It is no secret that we are experiencing very challenging times in our state and in our nation," Madsen said. "I havent spoken to anyone who is predicting that youre going to have an easy session this year. I think youre all going to be spending many long days and late nights in Olympia."On top of the challenges associated with a divided government the House being controlled by the Democrats and the Senate controlled by the Republican led Majority Coalition Caucus Madsen acknowledged the looming funding and revenue challenges facing lawmakers.Cases like McCleary, that address school funding, and the pending case of League of Education Voters, which involves a challenge to restrictions on the power of the legislature to tax, will always provoke controversy, Madsen said. That comes with the constitutional responsibility placed on courts. But, its how we work together to meet the very complex and difficult challenges that will determine the future for the public that we all serve.Madsen also touched on work she said lower courts have done to curb costs and improve service, like Kitsap County District Court moving to an electronic filing system and municipal courts in King County that are sharing interpreter services. The need for such interpreters, she said, which there is an exploding demand for.Madsen also asked that lawmakers work with the high court to institute reforms that would affect these lower courts and would contribute to better court performance, customer service, and fiscal efficiency.More and more, community leaders are interested in exploring cooperative arrangements for the delivery of court services, Madsen said. Thanks to a grant from the State Justice Institute, we are currently exploring a concept that is broadly described as regional courts.Another issue Madsen addressed was ineffective public defense, and insufficient access to legal aid attorneys across the state.We have learned that in areas of our state, the promise of access to effective assistance of counsel guaranteed by our constitution and our legislature has not been met.Madsen ended her speech by touching on what she called a critical challenge facing the court. Specifically, addressing what she said were safety concerns of thousands of courthouse employees, attorneys, jurors, and members of the public. Safety concerns she punctuated by highlighting the Grays Harbor County shooting and stabbing, the recent chemical attack on Thurston County District Court Judge Michael Brett Buckley, and the various bomb threats given to courthouses around the state.We are truly blessed that in each situation, there was not a tragic ending, but hoping that this remains the case is not a policy, Madsen said. Simply hoping that nothing bad happens is no longer good enough.