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City looking to renegotiate contract for court prosecution services

The city of Sunnyside will be looking to renegotiate its contract with Kathleen Hitchcock for prosecution services at the Sunnyside Municipal Court.

Hitchcock became the judge in Wapato effective Jan. 1, 2010 and with her other duties as the judge for Granger, she has missed a lot of her assigned time in Sunnyside since the new year.

Hitchcock signed a contract with the city of Sunnyside in January 2009 to provide prosecution services every Tuesday. The Sunnyside court hears cases on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Former City Attorney Mark Kunkler handled the Thursday cases. The contract Hitchcock signed with the city in January 2009 compensated her $1,933 a month.

In June, the Sunnyside City Council amended Hitchcock's contract to compensate her $2,200 a month. This was done after Kunkler resigned from the city and Hitchcock began handling the Thursday workload, as well.

In September, Sunnyside Municipal Court Judge Steven Michels began requiring all prosecutors and defense attorneys to attend arraignments. These are done on Mondays and Thursdays.

To reflect the extra time Hitchcock would be spending in Sunnyside the council again amended her contract, this time compensating her $2,500 per month.

Sunnyside City Manager Jim Bridges said that when Hitchcock is unable to attend court in Sunnyside a replacement is used. Under Hitchcock's contract she is not liable to provide a replacement in case of her absence.

Sunnyside has two prosecuting attorneys the city uses in case of a Hitchcock absence, George Colby and George Hanson. Hitchcock missed both Thursday court appearances in January and again on Feb. 16.

It is unclear who filled in for Hitchcock for those missed days. But whoever it was is going to get paid on the city's dime. Sunnyside Finance Director Bryon Olson said he has received a request from Colby and he would like $200 per hour for his services. Neither Olson nor Bridges could tell the Daily Sun News if anyone has been paid for replacement prosecution services or how much, but both agreed that whoever filled in for Hitchcock would have to be paid.

But, Bridges was clear that Hitchcock's contract will have to be renegotiated.

"We can't wait," he said. "We have to do this as soon as possible."

Bridges said there is a need to address the city courts to make sure it is operating appropriately and efficiently, and is providing a service to the public.

There are many options on the table. Bridges said Hitchcock's contract could be re-worked to take into consideration work days missed due to schedule conflicts or conflicts of interest. He also said a possibility is to hire a pool of attorneys, which the city could then draw from.

Sunnyside Mayor Jim Restucci said it's also possible council would hire a city attorney to replace Kunkler. He added the idea isn't on top of council's list of things to do but council members have talked about it.

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