News

Gov’s pen grounds judges

With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Christine Gregoire clipped the wings of Superior Court judge Vickie Churchill and Alan Hancock last week.

Churchill spearheaded an effort — that ultimately became a law — to split the judicial district covering Island and San Juan counties in two, allowing San Juan to have its own Superior Court judge for the first time in the 100-year history of the Friday Harbor courthouse.

That means, starting in 2008, Churchill and Hancock will no longer be flying judges. They will no longer have to fly or ferry to Friday Harbor at least once a week to hold court.

For Island County, the law will mean the courthouse will have two full-time Superior Court judges for the first time in its history. It will ease the court schedule, possibly leading to more trials each year.

The judges say they will miss Friday Harbor, though perhaps not the rocky plane rides.

“Although both Judge Hancock and I feel strongly that we have been a good fit for San Juan and have done a great job, it was time to facilitate this change,” Churchill said. “I have made strong and lasting friendships in San Juan County, and I will miss the interaction with attorneys, jurors, court staff, county officials and others there.”

The move to split the district began after a study by the Administrative Office of the Courts found that another judge is needed in the joint district based on caseloads.

The options were either to elect a new judge for the joint district or to break up the district and allow San Juan County voters to elect their own judge.

According to Churchill, Island County was once a joint judicial district with Whatcom County. The first judge of the Island and San Juan County judicial district was Judge Howard Patrick, followed by Judge Richard Pitt.

Both Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano, and Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, co-sponsored bills to split the districts.

“Adding a new judge to specifically service San Juan County seemed to be the best way to solve this problem,” Bailey said. “It also allows our local judges to focus on reducing the full court dockets in Island County.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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