Bellingham Council Starts Process to Abolish Municipal Court

Tonight the Bellingham City Council - with no agenda notice - authorized the mayor to begin process to abolish the Bellingham Municipal Court

Tonight the Bellingham City Council - with no agenda notice - authorized the mayor to begin process to abolish the Bellingham Municipal Court

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Update Tue, 9 am:  The video of last night's council meeting is now posted.  They spent less than 2 minutes on this - not telling the public anything.  It starts at 2:27:20 of video - and it is over by 2:28:55.  All discussion was in executive session - and they gave no explanation to public.  Council president does not even tell us which single council member voted no. 

Below article posted 11:30 pm Mon eve. 

The Bellingham Council voted 6 to 1 this evening to set in motion a process to abolish the Bellingham Municipal Court.  The motion authorizes the administration, Mayor Seth Fleetwood and staff, to negotiate an inter-local agreement for the county to handle all the criminal cases normally handled by the Municipal Court - and to negotiate the costs that the city would pay the county.  This agreement would clear the way for the Bellingham City Council to then abolish the Municipal Court. 

This issue was not on the agenda for tonight's city council meeting. This was an ambush.

The action came at the very end of tonight's council meeting. One could watch it live on city TV but probably very few were watching the end of a routine council meeting.   There is no video of the afternoon session nor the evening council, nor even a summary posted on the city website.  This seems like a directed delay of information as the afternoon videos are normally available in the evening.   

Perspective:  The mayor, Seth Fleetwood,  and assistant city attorney, James Erb, are beginning to find themselves on the losing  end of a legal fight with Municipal Court Judge Deb Lev.  She has filed a lawsuit to stop the mayor and city attorney from messing with court business.  State law forbids such interference in the court.  So now - in an ambush process - the council is trying to abolish the Muni Court entirely - and thus remove Deb Lev from her judge position. How much Fleetwood is involved in this is unknown. This seems all grounded in James Erb losing two elections seeking to be county prosecutor and then a judge.  This has the fingerprints of a personal vendetta against Deb Lev. And a side twist may be to have more city court cases brought before the city hearing examiner, who acts as a judge in many city legal cases.  The Hearing Examiner is more directly under the thumb of the city administration and thus not an independent court.  Twenty years ago, the city went down this stupid path of abolishing the muni court and it cost city taxpayers dearly.  This motion tonight is a raw act of intimidation - of attempted bullying - of judge Deb Lev to force her to bow to the Bellingham administrative control of her court.  

What is outrageous or sad is the city council joining in this sad interference of judicial independence - and violating the basics of representative democracy by acting outside the published agenda.  I do not yet know who was the one vote against this move.  

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About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Jun 22, 2021

The item was on the agenda for the Executive Session.  I watched the video, now posted, and there is no way to tell who voted NO on the 6-1 vote as far as the video is concerned. 

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Tip Johnson

Jun 22, 2021

I would like to hear more about, “Twenty years ago, the city went down this stupid path of abolishing the muni court and it cost city taxpayers dearly.”

I vaguely recall it was 20 years ago the City established Municipal Court after Mayor Asmundson balked at the costs the County proposed for continuing the City’s business in District Court.

I’d like to see a cost comparison, because after millions in remodeling, staffing and administration, it may have been a better deal to have stayed with the District Court.  Might still be a better deal. How many courts do we need?  It’s the same with jails. 

The Law and Order industry vacuums up way too many tax dollars as it is. It sucks!  😉

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Dick Conoboy

Jun 22, 2021

The single NO vote came from Hannah Stone, the council president. 

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Karen Steen

Jun 22, 2021

Thank you, Council President Stone, for your characteristic wisdom and integrity; your vote confirms my read on these awful developments from the outset.

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