Seattle Municipal Court Updates - September 2020


Seattle Municipal Court

Community Update

September 2020 

Welcome to the Seattle Municipal Court Newsletter

Seattle Municipal Court entrance

Thanks for signing up for updates from the Seattle Municipal Court. We hope to use this newsletter to keep you informed about what's going on at the court and share opportunities to be engaged in our work.

Our mission at Seattle Municipal Court is to provide a forum to resolve alleged violations of the law in a respectful, independent and impartial manner. As we continue forward in this era of criminal legal system reform, a new set of guiding principles are needed to guide our evolving work. With this in mind, our leadership team has adopted these three guiding principles:

  1. Engage the community to guide court programs
  2. Eliminate disproportional impacts upon Black, Indigenous, and People of Color
  3. Collaborate with our stakeholders to transform the system and improve outcomes

We look forward to demonstrating our commitment to these principles in the months and years ahead, as we work to reform our local criminal legal system and equitably protect public safety for all members of our community. 

New Community Court Program Launched August 10

Seattle Community Court - Responsive - Equitable - Individualized

In August, we launched the new Seattle Community Court, a pretrial release program that will rapidly resolve low-level, non-violent misdemeanor cases. Instead of spending time in jail, Community Court participants will get connected with social services such as housing assistance and addiction treatment, and will have their charges dismissed upon completion of the program. Seattle Community Court is the culmination of a multi-year collaboration between the court, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, and the King County Department of Public Defense. Hear directly from our program partners in the Seattle Community Court video

Seattle Community Court will use harm reduction principles to help participants exit the criminal justice system, while also reducing racial disproportionality by ensuring that all individuals charged with low-level misdemeanors, regardless of criminal history, will be eligible to participate in the program.

Learn more about Community Court at

Community Court program leaders Curtis, Naikia and Sokpul standing together wearing masks

Community Court program leaders Curtis, Naikia and Sokpul. 

Staff inspecting a community service work site inside a warehouse

Naikia and Leah inspecting a community service work site.

Probation Evolution at Seattle Municipal Court

Vera Institute of Justice logo

In June, the Vera Institute of Justice released an evaluation commissioned by our court of our Probation Services. You can read the report here. Recommendations from the Vera report give us a path forward to undo systemic inequity and serve the people of Seattle most effectively. While we work to implement the report's recommendations, we want to keep you informed on our progress and get your feedback. Expect to see updates from our probation evolution process in this newsletter moving forward. 

Eliminating Jail Booking for Low-Level Misdemeanors

A huge part of Seattle Community Court is moving away from jail as a response to low-level misdemeanors. In July, SMC's bench voted to pursue a process to default all warrants issued for a failure to appear for a court date for a Community Court-eligible charge to be PR’able. Under this proposal, when an individual comes into contact with law enforcement, they will not be arrested on their low-level failure to appear warrant. Instead, the police officer will be able to quash the warrant in the field and provide the individual with a  court date to appear and resolve the case.

Judges Vote to Eliminate Discretionary Fees

This month, Seattle Municipal Court judges voted to eliminate all discretionary fines and fees imposed in criminal cases, representing one step in a court-wide commitment to lessen barriers and increase equity in the legal system.

The judges voted unanimously to permanently eliminate the probation supervision fee, records check fee, work crew fee, and community service setup fee. These changes are expected to benefit over 1,000 individuals per year. This is effective September 16, 2020. 

Seattle Municipal Court judges have waived these fees in the majority of cases where it has been determined that individuals do not have the means to pay them. The decision to eliminate the fees for all individuals is a further statement that the court does not believe in charging people for court-imposed supervision. Read more here

Pro Tem Judge Catherine McDowall Appointed to Seattle Municipal Court

Catherine McDowall headshot

Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced her appointment of Catherine McDowall to the current vacant judicial position on the Seattle Municipal Court. Since 2013, Catherine McDowall has served as Judge Pro Tempore on the Seattle Municipal Court and King County District Court. The Judicial Evaluation Committee, which included representatives from several of the local Minority Bar Associations, City Attorney’s Office, and the Public Defender Association, recommended the appointment of Judge Pro Tem McDowall. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the City Council.

Congratulations, Judge Pro Tem McDowall! Read more here.

Court Operations During COVID-19

Protecting the health and safety of all who enter the courthouse has been our number one priority throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Seattle Municipal Court is open to the public, though operations are limited in order to maintain social distancing and reduce the number of people in the building. Visitors are required to wear a face covering at all times and check their temperature at the courthouse entrance.

Jury trials resumed in the last week of August, after careful preparation to ensure that jurors are able to maintain a safe distance throughout all stages of the process. Parking and infraction ticket hearings are only being held through written statement at this time, and we are not charging late fees for tickets at this time.

For updated information on how to conduct your court business during COVID-19, check our FAQ at