Seattle Municipal Court Updates - March 2021


Seattle Municipal Court

Community Update

March 2021 

Update on Court Operations during COVID

Computer stations

Seattle Municipal Court (SMC) is continuing to hold criminal and contested infraction hearings virtually, and encourages the public to stay home and handle their court business online, by phone, or by mail. SMC's Intake calendar, where many out-of-custody arraignments are held, resumed on March 3, 2021 with all hearings conducted virtually. The court has been holding virtual out-of-custody arraignment hearings for mental health court, domestic violence, and driving under the influence (DUI) cases since December 2020.

Virtual courtrooms for criminal hearings and contested infraction hearings can be accessed on the court’s website. People who come to the courthouse in-person who do not have technology to participate in their hearing by phone or video are given access to a socially-distanced computer lab in the courthouse. Jury trials will remain suspended through at least May 21. 

SMC is not currently charging late fees for tickets or referring tickets to collections. Tickets can be paid online or by calling (206) 233-7000. SMC has suspended the $3.60 transaction fee for telephone and online payments.

For more information, check out our COVID-19 FAQ available in Spanish, Somali, Russian, Vietnamese, and Traditional and Simplified Chinese. 

Updates from Probation Services

Probation caseload pie chart

New Data Reports: We are excited to publish two new data dashboards for our Probation Services department: Active Probation Caseload and Probation Closed Cases. Seattle Municipal Court is committed to improving our services and furthering our court-wide goals of lessening barriers and increasing equity in the criminal legal system. We began evolving Probation Services in June 2020 in response to findings from a commissioned report, which gave recommendations for how we can most effectively serve our clients based on national best practices.

These dashboards offer key performance indicators for our Probation Services and are published as part of our commitment to transparency in our reform effort, as recommended by the 2020 Probation Services evaluation. Read more on our blog.

2020 Accomplishments and What's Next: Our Programs and Services Division, which includes Probation Services, underwent a lot of change in 2020 and this restructuring is continuing into 2021. In 2020, we achieved several major milestones:

  • Reduced clients on active supervision by 16% and reduced records checks by 78%, resulting in 1,640 less clients on SMC probation. 
  • Reorganized and downsized Probation Services by 25%, consistent with our goal to serve fewer clients. 
  • Welcomed nearly 100 participants in the first five months of the transformative Community Court program. 
  • Instituted Client’s Bill of Rights and probation exit survey. 
  • Eliminated discretionary supervision fees.
  • Transformed Day Reporting to more supportive pretrial services, including a treatment connection program. 
  • Identified new risk assessment tools that focus on individuals’ needs. 

Heading into 2021, we are focused training staff and implementing the tools and policies to support our goal-based supervision approach. Read more on our blog

Presiding Judge Willie Gregory Receives Innovating Justice Award

Judge Willie Gregory speaking on a Zoom presentation

Congratulations to our Presiding Judge Willie Gregory, who was honored with the Innovating Justice Award from Washington Courts last month for exceptional leadership in helping courts deliver innovative and responsive justice using a racial equity lens during the COVID-19 crisis. Judge Gregory was elected to the position of Presiding Judge by his colleagues at the beginning of the pandemic and has led the court with guiding principles of protecting health and safety and advancing racial and social equity.

Watch the award presentation and read more here

We're Hiring: Court Administrator

We are now recruiting for a strategic, collaborative Court Administrator to lead the administrative and operational functions of the court. We are committed to bringing in a court administrator who has a commitment to racial equity and inclusion to lead our court in this time of great change.

To help develop the job description, 44 court staff participated in focus groups to share their priorities and vision for the court and its leadership. Key themes in the position description came out of the feedback we heard from these focus groups, such as core commitment to race and equity, accountability, strong leadership, visibility, and relationship building. Court staff will also have a voice in the hiring process, through both the initial stakeholder interview and through the Race and Social Justice Change Team's interview with candidates.

Bringing on a new Court Administrator is an exciting opportunity, and we are confident that together we will find the right leader to help our court move forward and continue providing excellent service to the Seattle community. Please share the job announcement widely with your networks. 

Webinar: From Pandemic Reforms to Systematic Change in Probation and Parole

On March 16, Programs and Services Director Betty McNeely participated in a webinar featuring probation and parole executives, formerly incarcerated individuals, and advocates who have spearheaded innovations in housing and financial security. From transforming vacant hotels into homes to terminating fees and unpaid tickets, the panelists shared how changes in probation and parole are possible in the long term.

Betty McNeely shared the context behind SMC's decision to eliminate discretionary fines and fees for criminal cases last year, including the probation and records check fees. She also discussed SMC's probation evolution efforts, and how the pandemic and the social justice movement sparked by George Floyd's death have created a unique climate for reform. 

Watch the recorded webinar.