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Sunnyside Municipal Court cases increasing

Judge Steven Michels has served on the bench at the Sunnyside Municipal Court since 1986. Monday, he told the council times have changed.

"My main goal is really to protect all of us here," said Michels.

He said the court is trying to cut its costs by deferring cases, or providing a continuance for those with clean driving records.

"Some cases can be amended to an infraction," Michels said of another cost-saving effort on his part.

The demands have increased and the court is now hearing cases on Thursdays, besides the regular Monday and Tuesday sessions. There is also the possibility the state will pass a law that limits the number of cases handled by public defenders, which Michels said would require another defender in Sunnyside.

Contracts for the judge, public defender and prosecutor have expired and the council will soon be considering new contracts.

Because of the increased caseload and demands of his time, Michels' salary is expected to also receive a boost. The prosecutor's salary may or may not increase.

The city of Sunnyside advertised requests for proposals for both the prosecutor's position and the public defender's spot. There were two responses received for the public defender and the alternate public defender. Sunnyside expects to pay approximately $70,000 more for the public defender's office needs if the contracts are approved.

Because of the increased caseload, the court services staff has also requested council consider hiring a warrant officer.

Michels said he has only once feared for his own safety, but the prosecutor and the defender have expressed concern for their own safety, according to Deputy City Manager and Chief Financial Officer Byron Olson.

Also, the warrant officer would be responsible for trying to collect unpaid fines, which amount to about $2.4 million.

"I think an officer serving warrants would be helpful," said Michels.


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