Covington’s court services now in Auburn

Covington court cases started going to Auburn Feb. 1.

Court proceedings for the city of Covington have settled into a new home in Auburn.

Since the city incorporated in 1997, explained City Manager Derek Matheson, Covington has contracted with King County for municipal court services. During that time city cases have been heard in courtrooms in Kent and Renton.

With the transition of Auburn’s municipal court in November to a King County District Courthouse it made sense, Matheson said, to move Covington cases to that location.

“For several years they heard our cases at the Aukeen courthouse in Kent,” Matheson said. “Then they moved cases to the Renton courthouse … (the county) had surplussed it a few years ago, so, they had to lease it back. It’s an old building, poorly furnished. It was clearly a temporary solution.”

County officials were concerned the Aukeen — which served Auburn, Enumclaw and Kent hence the abbreviation — would flood if the levees in Kent could not withstand flooding of the Green River, Matheson said, so the use of Renton was short-term until a permanent home could be found for district court services for Southeast King County cities.

“At the same time (the city of) Auburn started talking about disbanding its municipal court,” Matheson said. “They did that. So, Auburn has had to go through a huge transition from a municipal court to a district court.”

Matheson said Covington court cases started going to Auburn Feb. 1. It made sense, Matheson said, to make the move especially after city officials checked with police and prosecutors as well as discovering the cost differential would be negligible.

“Regional partnerships like these make good sense for the public we serve, capturing economies of scale and providing advanced court technology for the residents of Auburn,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine in a statement on the county’s website in October.

Auburn is among a dozen local cities which contract with the county for court services, including Covington, and as part of an interlocal agreement signed in the fall, Auburn will adjudicate civil and criminal matters occurring within the city through King County District Court – South Division.

Services will be provided at the same location of the former Auburn Municipal Court, at 340 E. Main Street, with the court located on the top floor which is leased to the county and the first floor still home to the Auburn Police Department.

“By keeping the court at the Auburn Justice Center, our residents can still access court services at the same convenient location, while saving the costs of supporting a stand-alone court,” said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis in a statement on the county’s website in October.

Covington has about 1,500 court cases annually, Matheson said, which are typically misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and traffic citations or any type of criminal case which is punishable with less than a year in jail. There are a fair amount of DUIs and domestic violence cases, Matheson added.

With that amount of cases, it makes sense to contract court services.

“We’ve looked at it but we just don’t have a large enough caseload to achieve the economy of scale to run our own court,” Matheson said. “Maple Valley has kind of a hybrid model. And Black Diamond does it itself, they have a part time judge, a part time clerk and it must use the City Council chambers a day a month.”

Maple Valley contracts with Kent for court facilities, staffing and a limited amount of jail space and has its own appointed judge, Judge Stephen Rochon.

Matheson said the city budgeted $300,000 for court services for 2011 and it paid $266,000.

“And that’s offset by revenue, which contrary to popular belief, does not compensate for the amount it costs to run the court,” Matheson said. “About $161,000 (will come in) from traffic infractions, parking infractions, criminal fines. That offsets about half of (the court costs).”

When court services were moved to Renton it made sense, Matheson said, because it was closer to Covington. Auburn is even better as it is a quick drive for residents on state Route 18 and right off the Auburn Way South exit.

“It’s just more convenient for our residents,” Matheson said.