Many who have gone to Superior Court have found themselves in front of what is called a Court Commissioner, many mistakenly think this person is a Judge but that is not the case.
A Superior Court Judge is a elected position in this state and must run for office every four years, after each election must affirm a Oath of Office which is Constitutionally required to be filed at the Secretary of State Digital Archives and generally available for online public inspection, but always is available for inspection in person. A Commissioner is Appointed by a Judge and serves at the pleasure of the appointing Judge.
A Commissioner is Constitutionally allowed under Article IV Section 23-
SECTION 23 COURT COMMISSIONERS. There may be appointed in each county, by the judge of the superior court having jurisdiction therein, one or more court commissioners, not exceeding three in number, who shall have authority to perform like duties as a judge of the superior court at chambers, subject to revision by such judge, to take depositions and to perform such other business connected with the administration of justice as may be prescribed by law.
The Washington Supreme Court in many case has ruled that any position set forth in the Constitution is dictated by those terms, ie that no authority (the legislature/executive/Judiciary) has the power to change the conditions spelled out in the Constitution, as it is both the maximum and minimum qualifications/standards. There exists a mechanism to modify the founding document via Public Vote for a Constitutional Amendment (which by design is a difficult process) or a super majority vote of the legislature. No Legislative act like a RCW, executive decree, or say a judicial Court Rule can override the specifics set forth in the Constitution.
Given the above statement on the power of the Constitution the lay person may say “Section 23 does not mention anything about a Oath of Office requirement, so the Commissioners are not required to subscribe one” this would not be the case because the appointing power (a Superior Court Judge of that County) is required to take a Oath and not requiring the appointed position would in fact give the appointee more power than the Judge, so while this fundamental requirement is not mentioned it is by application required.
Section 23 is quite specific in a very important area “not exceeding three in number”. Three Superior Court Commissioners per County is the maximum allowed, in writing this I visited King County Superior Court Employee Directory Page and found 11 active Commissioners listed and two additional vacant positions, one could deduct from this that because it is impossible to know which of the 11 are the allowed 3 that all of them would be disqualified for total lack of Jurisdiction.
In a recent Public Records Request (11-29-12 KCSC PRR email to 10-26 Request), to KCSC Chief Presiding Judge Richard McDermott seeking ALL appointments of all active Court Commissioners in response I was provided the following, Oaths of Office and Appointments
In reviewing the Commissioner appointments the following is revealed-
Commissioner Leonid (Les) Ponomarchuk was appointed by Judge Bobbe Bridge in August of 1998, he has never been reappointed since then. Problem here is that in 1999 Judge Bridge was appointed to the Supreme Court by then Gov. Gary Locke, Commissioner Ponomarchuk could not have served at her pleasure after that date.
The same scenario plays out over and over with all of the KCSC Commissioners listed, they serve at no Judges pleasure, and all but one have expired appointments.
Still remaining is the use of a Pro Tempore Commissioner, what the hell these are I don’t know, absolutely no mention in the Constitution for pro tems, Judges yes Commissioners no.
More to come on this story….