ASOTIN — Courts in Asotin, Garfield and Columbia counties received some good news from the state after struggling to make ends meet during a tumultuous year.
Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, was able to secure $600,000 in the state’s budget to help backfill the coffers in all three counties. The money will be spread out over two years and is intended to defray the costs of paying visiting judges and other expenses incurred after the presiding Superior Court judge was arrested in early April for alleged sexual misconduct in the workplace.
Officials said the absence of Judge Scott D. Gallina, who is facing six felony charges and awaiting a yet-to-be-determined trial date, took a toll on superior courts in all three jurisdictions. State and county money is being used to continue paying Gallina’s salary at the same time bills for visiting judges and travel time are stacking up.
Dye, who recently returned from Olympia, said she made the budget request after being informed of the court issues in the 9th District. She and other leaders explored several possible remedies that would’ve involved legislation and the state Constitution, but the funding boost was the only one that got traction.
“It was a great honor to help out,” Dye said. “The main thing I wanted to do was give our local courts the financial resources they need to continue providing justice and essential services. I’m very grateful I was able to do something that may help.”
Asotin County Prosecutor Ben Nichols praised Dye’s willingness to lend a hand. The past year has been difficult, and the Pomeroy lawmaker recognized the seriousness of the situation, he said.
“In a time when our county was in trouble and needed help, we asked a lot of people to help us, and Mary Dye stepped up,” Nichols said. “She put her constituents first. We are truly grateful for her efforts and her help.”
Columbia County Prosecutor Dale Slack said the state funding will allow courts to operate during this time of uncertainity. The three-county circuit does not have a full-time judge to oversee cases, and COVID-19 has added another obstacle to the judicial process, he said.
“This is great news for us,” Slack said, “as we have had to spend thousands from our already-strapped budgets on both the judge’s salary and the costs of court coverages by court commissioners. This means, frankly, that we can now provide other essential services to our populace that we couldn’t before, due to being cash-strapped. This money will be a godsend.”
Dye said she learned a lot about the judicial branch over the past few months. At some point, she’d like to see the Legislature adopt new rules that would allow replacement of Superior Court judges during long-term absences, whether it’s health related or something as unusual as the Gallina situation.
Although she would’ve preferred a more comprehensive solution, Dye said she was pleased the House and Senate passed the budget request, which should ease some of the financial concerns.
“Small counties don’t have a lot of resources,” Dye said, “and this was really impacting our courts. No justice in those counties would be denied because of the judge’s absence, but it came at a cost. The visiting judges have done a good job. They took on a lot of extra work, and we really appreciate what they’ve done.”
Sandaine may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.