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King County Looks To Improve Safety For Jurors, Other Courthouse Visitors

flkr/Creative Commons
Outside the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle

The Presiding Judge of King County Superior Court says open air drug dealing and harassment outside the county courthouse in downtown Seattle has reached a crisis point. The court is asking that measures be taken to make the environment safer for jurors and other courthouse visitors.

Jurors, Others Have Been Assaulted

Public urination, illegal drug use and harassment are a perennial problem around the county courthouse. But, speaking to the King County Council, Presiding Judge Laura Inveen said things have gotten worse lateley.

She listed some recent incidents, including the serious assault in May of a juror just after he stepped off the bus. And she says two weeks after that attack, there was another assault.

“A juror was intentionally knocked over while holding her coffee cup while she was entering the courthouse after lunch," Inveen said.

Inveen said a day after that assault one of the family law employees described himself as being body slammed as he crossed Third Avenue.

It's Too Easy To Ignore The Problem

Assistant Presiding Judge Jim Rogers said one problem is that people like himself who are around the courthouse everyday have come to ignore the bad behavior.

“Everyday I walk by drug deals and people urinating and I think that we’re all sort of used to that. We almost don’t see it," he said. 

Rogers and Inveen say whether its victims of domestic violence seeking protection orders, witnesses or jurors, the reluctance to come to court undermines due process and access to justice.

Powerwashing And More Patrols

Short term ideas being considered to address the problem include more police patrols and power washing the sidewalks and emptying the garbage cans more often as a way to discourage bad behavior. 

Look At Underlying Issues Creating Safety Problem

There is, however, some push back to some of the clean up proposals. King County Councilman Larry Gossett says he’s worried that power washing and increased security will affect the vulnerable population on the street.

“Most of the emphasis seems to be on safety for the jurors and courthouse staff and not enough attention being put to underlying problems that give rise to some of the disruptive activities of the lumpen proletariat out on the street,” Gossett said.

There was general agreement among the judges, police and council members that to really resolve the issue long term, homelessness, mental illness and drug addiction in the county need to be seriously dealt with.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.