Months later, the then presiding judge of Spokane Municipal Court, Honorable Judge Mary Logan, called for a collaborative meeting of all prosecutors and public defenders in her courtroom to address the establishment of Spokane Community Court. The two offices dug in their heels on what the court would look like. The prosecutor wants a more punitive court with the hope that the defendant would learn a lesson and quit committing crimes – something that is not anyway different from what we were currently doing. The public defender, myself included,wanted a court where everyone would have a chance, sex offender et al. The project never got off the ground. It suffered for years until Judge Logan found an ally in the new police chief, Frank Straub. The latter had been involved with Center for Court Innovations in West Plains, New Yorkand understood the advantages of having a court that cared about community needs and not just a law and order type court.
A small group started working on the project in the spring of 2013, and I was happy to be included by my boss. I immediately struck up a friendship with an unlikely ally, a prosecutor I had done battle with in numerous trials. What I didn't know is that I was not the only one disappointed with the system. The prosecutor, Adam Papini, started telling me how much disgust he often felt when at an arraignment hearing a person of color would come in from jail in shackles and would be offered a plea and credit for time served, in order to get out of jail, while others who could afford to bond out would come in from the street on bond, free as a bird and plead not guilty. We struck a partnership that endures to this day. We promised Judge Logan, that we would work collaboratively to make her dream of a court that cared "for the least of these" a reality. Along with the then municipal probation chief, Donna McBride, we spent night and day working hard to put together the community providers that today form the bedrock of Spokane Municipal Community Court.
With the help of the then deputy police chief (who is now our current police chief), Craig Meidl, we pulled the data and what we found was staggering. We found that the majority of crimes in our downtown corridor are low-level quality of life crimes, mainly trespass, pedestrian interference et al. We also pulled conviction and jail data and we found facts that confirmed my suspicion that my clients were serving life sentences even though they do not know it. The icing on the cake was when we struck up a partnership with Spokane County Medical Health Foundations, the then operators of the Hot Spotters program. We had sent them our jail and conviction data and we asked them to tell us the percentage of people on the list that frequently use the ER to access routine healthcare. They came back with a figure that astounded us all. We found that when my clients are not serving life sentences 30 days at a time, they are either spending the night in unsafe alleys or under the interstate bridge where the Spokane Fire Department spends hundreds of dollars to evacuate them to the ER.
To be continued