June 3, 2005
Despite a somewhat small turnout, President Pete Rogerson got the meeting off to a good start at 7:05 p.m.
Without wasting any time, Pete introduced our guest of the evening, Municipal Court Judge, Michael Hurtado. Judge Hurtado has been with the Municipal Court since 1993, where he held night court for twelve years. Since the beginning of this year he has been the judge that hears mental health issues (mental health court?). When the Presiding Judge, the Honorable Fred Bonner, appointed Judge Hurtado to the court hearing mental health cases, he went with some reservation (kicking and screaming?). To date, it is and has been a rewarding and educational experience.
There are eight elected judges on the Municipal Court in Seattle (remember this is City Court). Municipal Court hears only misdemeanor cases. Simple misdemeanors can get up to 90 days in jail and or $1000.00 fine, however, Gross Misdemeanors can fetch up to a year in the Gray-Bar Hotel.
Unlike Superior Court (County), judges in Municipal Court (City) have complete discretion in their sentencing. It was at this point that Judge Hurtado gave us some examples and how the judges might impose sentences. His sense of humor was revealed at this time. (At this point I might point out that the reader would likely NOT guess that this person holds the position of “Judge” should you happen to pass him on the street, a judge with a ponytail? Yup!) And that’s a GOOD thing, eh?
Outside of the official duties of the Court, Judge Hurtado speaks to classes at elementary and middle schools (what were called junior high schools). He speaks about the avoidance of “gangs and the gang culture.” This is a form of intervention. Judge Hurtado doesn’t bother with “High Schools,” because by then it is too late. The judge is also available to speak to community groups as well. He will give tours of the City Jail and the courts. Just call and ask!
During the “question and answer” portion of the session, the question was asked “How does one (voter) go about finding any information about those judges who are up for election (or re-election)?” The answer is that the Washington State Bar Association and the King County Bar Association conduct surveys among the members (lawyers) of the legal community and those findings (ratings really) are published in the local newspaper. They are also available through the “Freedom of Information Act.”
The Judge also pointed out that today the members of the judicial community live very dangerous lives. As has been reported in the national press, there have been threats and assaults against those that serve as judges. Today they spend a lot of time looking over their shoulder.
Even though the Judge kept apologizing for taking so much of the meeting time, the questions kept coming, and in the end he suggested that we invite ALL the judges of the Municipal Court to our meetings.
All in all it was a very informative and interesting evening. There is much to be learned about the inner workings of the court system and the people who serve the public in the judicial capacity.
NOTE* As is the usual procedure, there will be no July meeting of the North Precinct Advisory Committee. (We’ll all be at the Summer Solstice parade in the Fremont District watching “you know what.”)