Judge hopeful courthouse’s Third Avenue entrance will become safer

Dec 6, 2019, 5:59 AM

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King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle. (Dyer Oxley, KIRO Radio)

(Dyer Oxley, KIRO Radio)

It’s the nightmarish street that has jurors and King County employees terrified to enter the King County Courthouse — a one-block stretch of Third Avenue between James Street and Yesler Way that has seen enough violent, random attacks to shut down the courthouse’s Third Avenue entrance.

King County Superior Court Presiding Judge James Rogers made the decision this week to temporarily close the Third Avenue entrance, opting to have people use the Fourth Avenue entrance instead, after last week’s brutal and random assault of a defense attorney and of a bus driver who tried to help him.

“This has been going on for some time, it’s getting steadily worse, and we’re closing the courthouse — just for a short period — because of our safety concerns, but also to get everyone convened together,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

There were 160 assaults outside the courthouse just between January and October of this year, according to Seattle police. Dori asked whose fault this was.

Dori: How I would solve the King County Courthouse crisis

“I’m less interested in who is to blame, and more interested in getting solutions to this problem,” Rogers said. “And I actually do think that there will be solutions to this problem, because I know, in fact, as we are speaking, that there are conversations going on about getting it safer.”

Rogers noted that meetings are now taking place between the mayor, the city council, the county executive’s office, the county council, and local law enforcement agencies to come up with a plan to ensure citizens’ safety. Already, he said, the city has upped police presence on the troublesome block.

“One of the answers is to have more consistent security presence out there,” he said.

He believes that the most recent attack, which was caught on security cameras, helped spur everyone to action because it clearly showed in a video just how violent the street has become in that area of downtown Seattle.

“Our city has focused areas of crime,” Rogers said. “If you go up two blocks to Fifth Avenue, it’s like a different country.”

Pondering solutions

Rogers said that while he has witnessed the opioid epidemic outside and the danger that is occurring, he does not have the power to make policy. He does, however, want to do everything that he can to protect everyone who needs to use the courthouse.

“Justice should be open for everyone,” he said. “People can be scared to come down — jurors, litigants, people who need justice, [who need] their case to be heard.”

He does believe that when offenders are released from jail only to re-attack people on the streets — such as some of the “100 prolific offenders” highlighted in a report by Seattle business leaders earlier this year — the judges who released them should take a long, hard look at their actions.

“We should accept the blame for that,” he said. “That’s part of our job, to evaluate people who are potentially violent.”

Last week, Rogers came on the show to discuss a recent case involving an offender who, less than two weeks after being let out of jail on his own recognizance, allegedly stole a truck with a dog in it and led police on two high-speed chases. He called that instance “a cautionary tale for the next time we make a decision.”

However, Rogers does not see jail as a catch-all solution for every offender. Instead, he believes that the city and county need better programs to help people permanently get out of the cycle of using drugs and committing crimes.

The Third Avenue entrance to the courthouse is officially closed through the end of the year, but Rogers said that it could be opened sooner if the conversations between local leaders lead to enough changes.

“I’m cautiously hopeful that Third Avenue will be safer as a result of this action,” he said. “And I’m sorry that it had to come to this.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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