Jun 22

Jon Zimmerman

From Speeding Tickets to Mr. Tickles: Why Seattle Municipal Court Should Be Televised

by Jon Zimmerman

Although this blog generally focuses on traffic infraction issues, I feel compelled to write a post about another category of civil infractions - dog violations.  Dog violations are issued by animal control officers.

Most citizens who go to court in the State of Washington go to courts of limited jurisdiction - that is, municipal and district courts that hear the bulk of our traffic infraction, misdemeanor, small claims, and dollar-limited civil cases. 

In general municipal courts are fairly small, but not Seattle Municipal Court.  Here, there are a dozen or so elected and appointed judicial officers hearing hundreds of cases each day. 

During one morning traffic calendar last week, I was in Seattle Muni, as I typically am each week.  But this was no typical day.  Prior to the bulk of speeding, red light, and following too closely infraction hearings, the City of Seattle, through its esteemed Rule 9 (law student) persecutor (who this blog will not name because he might enjoy unearned and undeserved publicity), decided it would spend the better part of an hour trying a defendant accused of 3 doggy infractions - off-leash and off premises violations. 

The events at issue apparently started when an animal control officer, the City's first witness, responded to a disturbance involving Mr. Tickles - a dog that allegedly strayed onto a neighbor's property.  The neighbor is Attorney Andrea Nicolaisen, who it appears was upset about a boundary dispute involving the defendant accused of the doggy infractions, and the fear that Oggy, her dog, had of Mr. Tickles. 

Remarkably, the only people who could keep poker faces during this farce of a court hearing were the defendant and Attorney Nicolaisen.  The judge, the animal control officer, and Rule 9 persecutor, the other attorneys in the room (including yours truly) had to laugh at the antics of Mr. Tickles.

But what is not a laughing matter is how the City and Attorney Nicolaisen, somewhat unjustifiably, made dozens of people sit in court for an hour over two neighbors' failure to resolve a boundary dispute, in what is really a fleecing of Seattle's taxpayer dollars.  To the City and Attorney Nicolaisen - this blog gives you two thumbs down. 

For entertainment value, this blog recommends that the next time you're flipping through channels and see the Washington Supreme Court on TVW, just think - you could have entertaining (if not wasteful) Seattle Municipal Court doggy violation hearings televised into your living room.  You really have to see it to believe it.  Contact your local cable provider immediately, and don't forget to mention Mr. Tickles.

UPDATE:  6/25/09 - SEATTLE

Attorney Andrea Nicolaisen wrote in to inform me that my previous post "got the facts all wrong."  Ms. Nicolaisen points out that it was her neighbor, Crystal Welch, who phoned animal control, and that Ms. Welch, the complainant, was actually cited.  This blog originally cited Ms. Nicolaisen as the complainant, when more appropriately she should have been identified as a very upset, complaining witness.  

Ms. Nicolaisen notes, however, that the hearing was " a three hour waste of [her] time" and she also notes that "after sitting there for 2 hours [yours truly was] so unable to get even the most basic facts correct."   Ms. Nicolaisen's view is not only inaccurate, but it needs to be supplemented by what transpired. 

Attorney Nicolaisen was subpoenaed by the City of Seattle for a non-traffic civil infraction hearing involving her dog.  She seemed to enjoy testifying against her neighbor.  She also did not have to testify, as a subpoena requires her appearance, but a subpoena does not require or compel her to speak or testify, let alone drag an entire courtroom into her neighbor's dispute.  However, that's exactly what Attorney Nicolaisen did.  Why Attorney Nicolaisen felt compelled to testify at a dog infraction hearing is beyond me.

I did not spend the entire hearing in the courtroom; rather, I attempted to get my own work done.  The sad part about the morning is that Attorney Nicolaisen and the Rule 9 Legal Intern failed to resolve the dispute in less than a couple hours.  Rather, Attorney Nicolaisen's dog Oggy and Ms. Welch's dog, Mr. Tickles, were caught in the middle of a human dispute.  Even though the City won the hearing, as an observer I blame the City (and partly Ms. Nicolaisen) for the delay on the calendar.  

I wish Attorney Nicolaisen and Oggy well in their future endeavors.  


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