Citizens’ Police Academy 4: Municipal Court process

Contributed photo Sara L. McCulloch worked for 13 years at the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office in Seattle before being appointed Bainbridge Island's Municipal Court judge in November.
Contributed photo
Sara L. McCulloch worked for 13 years at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in Seattle before being appointed Bainbridge Island’s Municipal Court judge in November.

This is the fourth of nine entries about reporter Ethan Fowler’s participation in the Bainbridge Island Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy.

Despite being on the job only three months, Sara L. McCulloch came across knowledgeable, confident and friendly when Bainbridge Island’s Municipal Court judge spent more than an hour talking about her job to Citizens’ Police Academy participants March 18.

McCulloch worked for 13 years at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in Seattle before she was appointed to the part-time position for a four-year term in November. She sees about 20-35 cases on the Mondays and Tuesdays the court is in session.

McCulloch described the court as a “People’s Court” because of the variety of misdemeanor criminal cases brought before her. Driving under the influence, assault, domestic violence offenses, hit and run, malicious mischief, theft, trespass, reckless driving and use of drug paraphernalia are some of the criminal charges under the Municipal Court’s jurisdiction. The court also provides anti-harassment and sexual assault protection orders, as well as search and arrest warrants.

Despite the wide range of cases handled, court administrator Telma Hauth – who recently celebrated her 20th year in that position – said the Municipal Court constitutes only 1 percent of the city’s budget.

“Factually speaking, most of the people that come in here … aren’t a person of means,” McCulloch said. “A fair share of the people are in the 20s or 30s, but we see people of all ages here still trying to find their way.”

She said the Municipal Court largely has a “focus on rehabilitation,” where with a felony at the Superior Court level the “focus is incarceration.” McCulloch said her court provides a lot of treatment opportunities and options for people who frequently appear before her.

When I asked about why some court cases can drag on for years and cost millions, she said working as a prosecutor helped her to “really see the value of the process.”

“It’s about fairness and doing the right thing and making sure people are being treated right,” said McCulloch, who also performs weddings for a fee. “You can’t just say you want quicker justice. These people have constitutional rights and it does take time for justice.”

McCulloch also distributed handouts about Washington’s court system and a sample of the mountain of paperwork involved in a DUI conviction to Citizens’ Police Academy participants. She later donned her black court robe to present a mock DUI hearing with academy participants portraying attorneys and the driver, while court security officer Guy Roche and Hauth played themselves.

Roche then talked about his job and role with the court. He said that “things usually calm down” when people see him. He said that the lower level offenders who wear ankle bracelets for home monitoring are “really quite compliant.”

Barbara Chandler-Young, a client advocate for the YWCA of Kitsap County in its domestic violence program, spoke after Roche. She said that protection orders “really work” for some people and for others they don’t.

“I don’t take issuing orders lightly,” McCulloch said. “People who have more to lose … tend to be more responsive.”

After the meeting ended, McCulloch asked me to please remind drivers to always have four things up-to-date in their car or on them when they drive: a valid driver’s license, signed registration, proof of insurance and license tabs.

“All of this is a citation that could cost you a lot of money,” McCulloch said if an officer pulls you over and you’re missing one of those items.


About Ethan Fowler

Ethan Fowler has more than 20 years of journalism experience with 19 years of daily and weekly newspaper experience covering news, features and sports, as well as being an editor for 14 of those years. He has won several writing awards over the years in Washington state, Virginia, Texas and Georgia, including award-winning investigative journalism. Fowler was paid by the Review & Herald Publishing Association in 2009 to co-author a book, "Brushed Back: The Story of Trevor Bullock," with his wife. The book details the real life of a top minor league pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and his Christian faith. "Brushed Back" has sold more than 2,000 copies since its release.