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Benzel hired as Othello municipal court judge

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | October 4, 2022 4:32 PM

OTHELLO — Current Adams County District Court Judge Carolyn Benzel will be the judge for the new Othello Municipal Court, which will begin operation in January. Currently Benzel is also the judge for the Othello District Court branch.

Othello City Council members approved the contract at the regular meeting Monday.

“I think we have a contract,” said Mayor Shawn Logan. “Other than maybe a couple of minor changes, all the major stuff is in there.”

Hiring the judge, Logan said, will allow state officials to start the necessary procedures to get the new court connected to the proper agencies.

“They’re going to get this actually started. Once we hired the judge, then they know we’re serious, I guess,” Logan said.

Benzel will be paid $50,000 per year. State regulations require that all municipal judge contracts follow four-year cycles, and the latest cycle started earlier this year. As a result, the contract will be for three years. Benzel will be paid the same amount throughout.

Mayor Pro Tem Jonathan Erickson, who was part of the contract negotiations, said the contract amount reflects the job.

“A full-time judge is roughly $200,000 (per year), and the expected caseloads are (about one-quarter) of that,” Erickson said.

Benzel will preside over municipal court trials and hearings, according to the contract. The judge imposes fines and penalties, and sentences people who are found guilty of violating the city’s municipal statutes. She also sets the fines and penalties for defendants who receive traffic infractions or are found in violation of the city’s civil code.

The judge can terminate the contract with six months’ written notice to the city, but the city can only remove, suspend or admonish the judge through action of the Washington Supreme Court, under provisions in state law.

“She’s super excited to be part of this,” Erickson said. “It’s pretty exciting that she wants to take this on.”

The council chamber is being remodeled to accommodate a courtroom, Logan said. With the judge and a court administrator in place, Logan said city officials will be looking to fill the remaining positions.

“We’re going to need to negotiate a contract for prosecuting services, translation and indigent defendants,” Logan said.

Cheryl Schweizer may be reached at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.

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