Council acts to reduce judge's workload, salary

The Bainbridge City Council approved by a 5-2 vote Tuesday night a preliminary budget motion to reduce the hours of Municipal Court Judge Kathryn Carruthers during the 2011-12 budget period.

Carruthers, who was appointed to a four-year term in October 2009, is currently working at the Rolling Bay-located court at a pay rate of 67 percent (0.67 FTE) of the salary of a district court judge. Her 2010 salary is $94,964, plus benefits.

A motion made by Councilor Kim Brackett called for a reduction to 0.50 when the biennial budget goes into effect in 2011; voting against it were council members Barry Peters and Debbi Lester.

Mayor Bob Scales said he favored the pay reduction "because the AOC (Administrative Office of the Courts. a division of the Washington Courts System) says (in its annual needs assessment) that we should be below 50 percent based on how many hours the judge is on the bench and the number and types of cases that the court handles."

The AOC study, said Scales and Brackett, pegs the city's need requirement at 0.48 FTE, based on current caseload.

"So the rationale was that we can't afford to do more than what we need," he said. "And the AOC analysis shows that over the last three years the needs and demands of the court have gone down significantly."

Peters said he was hesitant "to rush into a decision without really getting our facts right to show that the statewide assessment is accurate with what we have here. It's been my impression that the court's practice and quality of service are excellent."

Scales also pointed out that the change in Carruthers' salary could lead to the termination of her contract.

Under "appropriations," the contract stipulates: ..."The terms of the Agreement are contingent upon sufficient appropriations being made by the City Council for the performance of this Agreement. If sufficient appropriations are not made, this Agreement shall terminate. The City's decision as to whether sufficient appropriations are available shall be accepted by the Municipal Court Judge and shall be final."

Scales said he could not discuss the contract, saying that Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer and City Attorney Jack Johnson would address the legal issue that has come up.

Carruthers said Wednesday: "I was appointed for four years and my contract cannot be modified by the city unilaterally, and that's what it appears they are doing. And there's good case law on that subject."

Scales said his decision on Carruthers' salary has nothing to do with the possibility of the court moving to Poulsbo, an issue the council will address Wednesday evening.

"The timing is coincidental," he said. "We started discussing sharing a courtroom in March when the two councils got together. We're about a month behind on schedule to make that decision, and the motion made last night was independent of that. We need to reduce expenditures where we can."

The FTE reduction would create an annual salary and benefit savings of about $30,000, "without negatively impacting the court's current caseload," Brackett said.

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