Boise & Garden City

Ada County commissioners fault Boise for ending agreement to pay for magistrate court

Twenty-two magistrate judges are based in Ada County, and part of their funding comes from cities. Ada County Magistrate Judge Theresa Gardunia talks with a lawyer during a 2015 arraignment at the county courthouse in Boise.
Twenty-two magistrate judges are based in Ada County, and part of their funding comes from cities. Ada County Magistrate Judge Theresa Gardunia talks with a lawyer during a 2015 arraignment at the county courthouse in Boise. Idaho Statesman file

The city of Boise has pulled out of its agreement with Ada County to pay for its magistrate court services, a move that drew unanimous condemnation from the Ada County commissioners and reignited an old fight that a new state law was supposed to settle.

For years, Idaho counties have argued with their cities about who should pay for magistrate courts, which handle a range of criminal and civil cases so district courts don’t have to.

A district judge ordered Boise to provide a magistrate court in 1980. The city has opted to use Ada County’s, rather than set up its own. Boise has paid the county for the service. A similar court order a few years ago forced Meridian down the same path.

But some cities think they’re charged unfairly, and both Boise and Meridian have been embroiled in legal battles over the cost.

To end the feuds, the Legislature in March passed a law to allocate state liquor revenues to fully pay for magistrate courts, said Seth Grigg, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, who drafted the law. That lessens the burden on the cities’ property tax payers.

But that won’t happen at once. Liquor-fund payments already go to cities for other purposes, and cities depend on that money. So the funds for the courts are being phased in over five years, as liquor revenues grow.

Meanwhile, the state asked Boise to continue to pay until 2023. Boise’s decision not to has left Ada County with a nearly $1 million funding gap this fiscal year.

“We are deeply disappointed,” the commissioners wrote Wednesday in a letter to Mayor David Bieter and the Boise City Council.

Ada County Commissioner Jim Tibbs said the county was counting on the city’s funding. “We will have to find that funding elsewhere or cut programs,” likely within the magistrate court itself, he told the Statesman in an interview.

Unlike Boise, Meridian does not pay. After the law passed, Meridian won a court order vacating prior orders that it pay. Now Meridian need not cough up more money than it receives in liquor payments to cover its share of court costs.

Boise wants to change its old deal to match Meridian’s more favorable terms. It is going to court, too. City attorneys expect to go before a district judge in January to argue their case.

“If there’s a city as significant as Meridian that sought relief from those payments and was successful in getting that, then Boise taxpayers deserve the same thing,” said Mike Journee, a spokesman for Mayor David Bieter, in an interview.

Tibbs said Ada County had made a “handshake deal” with Bieter about a year ago: In exchange for Boise’s continued payments to Ada County, the commissioners agreed to provide $250,000 to Terry Reilly Health Services’ medical support for New Path, a new apartment complex in Boise for chronically homeless people.

Terry Reilly is a nonprofit that operates community health clinics. The New Path building, whose costs the city is helping to shoulder, was just finished at 22nd Street and Fairview Avenue, and previously homeless tenants have begun moving in.

“Despite the fact that the city of Boise has turned its back on its promise, Ada County will not respond in kind and will continue to pay Terry Reilly for this fiscal year,” the commissioners wrote.

Journee said the commissioners’ implication of a “quid pro quo” agreement regarding New Path “is not true” and that they are “two separate issues.”

Magistrate judges hear infractions, misdemeanors, felony preliminary hearings, divorces, and an assortment of other cases. That keeps district judges free to hear more-serious cases. The magistrate court is in the Ada County Courthouse at 200 W. Front St.

As of 2015, Boise cases made up half of the magistrate court’s caseload, county spokeswoman Kate McGwire said. Meridian and Garden City make up a quarter, with Star, Kuna, Eagle, the Idaho State Police and Ada County making up the rest.

This article has been revised to correct the spelling of Seth Grigg’s name.

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