In an opening brief filed today, plaintiffs in a number of pending civil cases facing unreasonable delays asked the Washington Supreme Court to hold that they have standing to bring an action against the State over inadequate funding of the state courts. Their case about judicial funding was filed last year, but was dismissed by a trial court with an opinion or explanation. The plaintiffs, represented by Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore and CCL, sought direct review in the state supreme court.

     The brief notes that Washington's chief justices have long pleaded with the Legislature for more funding, noting that the state's trial courts ranked 50th out of 50 in per capita funding. The brief invoked the state constitutional guarantees of access to the courts "without unnecessary delay" and jury trials to argue that systemic issues prevent courts from hearing cases in a timely manner. They further argued that the system of separation of powers empowers the courts to assure adequate funding. 

      In Washington, half of judicial salaries at the trial level are paid by the state, while counties are responsible for the other half. By statute, the state legislature imposed half of all other costs on the counties as well. A popular referendum, however, required the state to pay all costs of additional judges added by the state. Nonetheless, the lawsuit argues that the provision of justice is ultimately a state responsibility and cannot be dependent on the ability of counties of uneven wealth to finance it. In this respect, the lawsuit is similar to school finance cases that have succeeded in Washington and other states. 

      A response brief, arguing in favor of affirming the dismissal, will be filed by the State February 25.