Forks District Court II employee cutbacks announced

Expect changes in service at the Clallam County District Court II located in Forks City Hall.

A court clerk position is being eliminated, and a second court clerk will be working half time due to Clallam County needing to come up with over $2 million in annual county budget cuts.

This will mean less timely access to court papers and other services provided at the window in the court office.

The announcement was made by District Court II Judge Erick Rohrer at the Wednesday morning, Oct. 26 meeting of the West End Business & Professional Association held at the state Department of Natural Resources meeting room on Tillicum Lane.

Notice of the layoff, and cutback in hours, for the clerks was received this week and takes effect by the end of November.

Forks court administrator Sabrina Bees will be working about three less hours per week, too, due to cost-saving cuts made across the board among Clallam County employees.

Rohr said it appears the court in Forks will remain open at its current location. Clallam County District Court officials had visited the former national forest building located north of Forks with thoughts of relocating the Forks court, Rohr said.

The Forks judge is also expected to take on additional duties such as dealing with probation cases. He is paid to work three days a week. However, Rohrer said he is sometimes called out on weekends to provide emergency judicial services for West End cases, attends court meetings in Port Angeles without pay and more.

Though based in Forks, the District II covers the entire West End, from Neah Bay to Clallam Bay, and west to Forks and as far south sometimes to the bordering area of northwest Jefferson County. Rohrer is also involved in truancy cases from the entire West End.

Rohr handed out a detailed overview of issues surrounding the cut in funding for the Forks court, which he estimated at about 26 percent of their about $150,000 annual budget down to $88,000.

“No other county Law & Justice agency is proposing this large of cut,” Rohrer stated. “In fact, most of the other Law & Justice agencies appear to be looking at ‘single-digit’ cuts.”

Rohrer said he also sees a discrepancy in how the number of cases handle in Forks is tallied, with county commissioners citing only about 600 per year, while his internal count shows just under 2000 per year.

At the meeting, WEB&PA members questioned why the Forks court was receiving a significantly larger cut back in funding. Local residents have sent numerous letters and emails to Clallam County District 3 (west Port Angeles - West End) Commissioner Mike Doherty questioning the cutbacks.

Doherty regularly attends the WEB&PA meetings, but  didn’t make the Oct. 26 gathering.

Concerns about having to drive to Port Angeles for court cases were raised at the meeting. These included the lack of funds forcing some persons charged with crimes to skip appearing in court, to the cost in time and dollars of having to drive to Port Angeles to resolve traffic tickets and other offenses, plus personal legal needs such as name changes for adopted children and restraining orders.

Rohrer said another scenario discussed by county officials would be to cut back on the Forks court through turning it into a “mail-in” court where court fines would be paid  by mail.

In the white paper handed out, Rohrer concluded that further cutbacks to the Forks court would render it incapable of meet its mandated obligations.

He said there has been speculation over having the City of Forks take over the District II Court. This wouldn’t work, he said, as the city doesn’t have the funds, and such a court would only handle cases within the city limits of Forks.

The final version of the 2012 county budget, which by law must be balanced, is still in the works, and is scheduled to be in place by Clallam County Manager Jim Jones by early December.

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