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Paralegal, city attorney help Battle Ground Municipal Court keep up with demand

BATTLE GROUND — As north Clark County continues to grow, it can put a strain on services, and Battle Ground officials have spent the last few years working to make sure that Battle Ground Municipal Court can keep up with the increased demand.

Within the last few years, the city has hired a full-time attorney and a paralegal. Previously, the city used had contracts with one firm to handle prosecutions and another firm to handle civil services. The city’s attorney, Christine Hayes, splits her time between prosecution and civil matters, such as reviewing ordinances and contracts.

Bonnie Gilberti, spokeswoman for the city, said Hayes spends about 60 percent of her time working in prosecution.

The cities of Ridgefield and La Center contract with Battle Ground for court services. Those cities pay Battle Ground based on how many cases come to court, using the average from the previous three years. To deal with the increased personnel, Battle Ground recently estimated costs for the new positions in each of the prior years, leading both cities to see a bigger bill coming in 2020 than more recent years.

In 2020, Ridgefield will pay $136,325, and La Center will pay $54,326. For the previous five years, Ridgefield’s payments have ranged from $97,086 to $111,680, while La Center’s have ranged from $33,745 to $56,825.

Ridgefield started using Battle Ground’s court services in 1995, according to a recent city council agenda packet. La Center has been using the court in Battle Ground since 1986, according to a city ordinance found on La Center’s website.

“We get a pretty good service with Battle Ground,” La Center Police Chief Marc Denney said. “We opted to stay with them. We have to, as a city, verify our cost effectiveness. We check that from time to time. For what we’re getting service-wise out of the Battle Ground courts, it’s been a good relationship. There are no other options other than going back to district court (or starting a court in the city). If a city opted to do that, that’s a big task to get a court up and running.”

The only other city in the county with a municipal court is Camas, which serves the city and Washougal. Camas City Administrator Pete Capell said the only difference between the two municipal courts is that Battle Ground contracts with an attorney to serve as judge and Camas contracts with Clark County to provide a judge.

The number of cases coming to the court hasn’t changed too much in recent years. According to numbers provided by Battle Ground, the court saw a total of 2,655 cases from the city in 2016, 2,540 cases in 2017 and 2,316 cases in 2018. Ridgefield brought 479 cases to Battle Ground court in 2016, 513 in 2017 and 600 in 2018, according to Battle Ground’s numbers. La Center’s court appearances totaled 178 in 2016, 219 in 2017 and 237 in 2018, Gilberti said.

But it’s not just the amount of cases increasing work for Battle Ground’s court staff. It’s the amount of work per case that has added difficulty, according to Kay Kammer, administrative services manager and city clerk.

“Over the course of the past few years, the legislature has passed a number of unfunded mandates which have directly increased the amount of court and staff time necessary to process each individual case,” she wrote in an email. “Many of the cases handled in the Battle Ground Municipal Court include domestic violence and DUI cases, which now require significantly more court oversight to monitor matters such as firearm surrenders, no contact issues, ignition interlock device compliance, treatment compliance and DNA testing. In addition, with increasing mental health issues the court has seen a significant increase in the filing of competency challenges, which also require an increase in court and staff time to oversee and process.”

The number of hearings scheduled per case filed has also increased in recent years. According to information provided by the city, Battle Ground’s court saw 3,565 cases filed in 2014 with an average of 2.13 hearings per case filing. In 2018, the court saw 3,153 cases filed with an average of 3.30 hearings per case filing. Through August of this year, the court had seen 1,907 cases filed with an average of 4.25 hearings per case filing.

“It’s really important for the court to provide a level of service in which the people coming through the court can be successful,” Gilberti said.


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