King County Joins Kitsap in Putting Prosecutors in Traffic Court

As it turns out, Kitsap isn’t the only county that’s put its lawyers to work in traffic court. King County too, has just begun a similar program, according to the Seattle Times.

Kitsap Prosecutor Russ Hauge argued last fall to the county commissioners that many people are able to weasel out of tickets if they know the right thing to say to the judge. Before this week, no lawyer was in court to present the police side and defend motions seeking to dismiss the ticket.

Hauge also argued that it would result in a revenue uptick for the county, somewhere in the neighborhood of $148,000.

I sat through the first day of traffic court Monday, where Claire Bradley stood in for the state. Bradley is the chief deputy prosecutor for the office’s district and municipal court divisions.

I was surprised, as some readers were, that nearly all the ticket’s contestants were not present in court and that they had lawyers present on their behalf. Wouldn’t the cost of a lawyer nullify the savings of getting a ticket dismissed?

Not necessarily so, said Ryan Witt, a Bremerton defense attorney I talked to during the proceedings. Insurance rates can go up for drivers who pony up and have tickets on their records, he said. Those costs can make the lawyer worthwhile.

Something else I’d meant to mention in the article is the reverberating effect having a prosecutor in court could have. While the court calendars may just get longer with an advocate on both sides, less tickets may be contested. Why? Simple: should a contestant call a lawyer for help, that lawyer might now advise the contestant that fighting it isn’t a good idea with the state in the room. Without a prosecutor, that same lawyer would have had a much easier time getting it dismissed.

There is also the possibility of plea negotiations to speed the calendar along. For instance, the last lawyer Monday had three clients. In each case, he and Bradley worked through the infractions as written, finding some common ground and disputed parts. But they both came to consensus, thus negating the need for a judge to make a decision, and moving things along more quickly.

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