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County won't ship juveniles away

Lawsuit alleges interference in courts


County commissioners told those attending the sixth public meeting on the Okanogan County’s Juvenile Department last week that they would commit to continue housing juveniles in the county facility in Okanogan, rather than outsource the job to a far-away place.

The latter possibility had brought 100 or more citizens, including two opposed superior court judges, out to a series of meetings in which commissioners explored various aspects of the question.

Their announcement June 21 followed the filing of a lawsuit against them a day earlier by those same judges and the Juvenile Court administrator, alleging their interference in another branch of government, Okanogan County Superior Court. The court’s contract with that administrator, Dennis Rabidou, is something the commissioners have refused to honor, wrongfully withholding a pay raise, according to the complaint filed in the court June 20.

A week earlier, the commissioners had heard a detailed presentation by Rabidou, who is the Superior Court and Juvenile Court administrator, and others on the county’s own processes developed to help troubled youth in the court system.

It was Rabidou’s presentation, Commissioner Sheila Kennedy said last week, that had convinced the board to reinvest in the juvenile facility built in 1974, rather than scrap the programs Rabidou and others contend are working well, helping young people, and allowing their families the chance to work with them too.

Kennedy and Commissioner Ray Campbell thanked Rabidou, his staff and the public for their patience and efforts to produce a complete, detailed record of the issues and costs associated with Juvenile Detention services and programs in Okanogan County. While the process was long and drawn out, they said, it was the best way to give the citizens of the county the chance to participate in the democratic-republic form of government that makes the country work.

The question will now turn to how to fund the rehabilitation of the Juvenile Justice Building.

Without upgrades, commissioners fear, Okanogan County could be liable to lawsuits if the building suffers structural damage from an earthquake or other catastrophe. The county’s 40,000 citizens could be asked to vote on a sales-tax increase.

The lawsuit, filed by Superior Court judges Christopher Culp and Henry Rawson, along with Rabidou, contends the commissioners violated the basic separation of powers set by the state’s constitution when they refused to grant a pay increase to Rabidou that had already been agreed to by the court.

“Efforts since August 2015 to get the commissioners to act in accordance with law and resolve this matter with very little cost to the county have been futile,” said Special Assistant Attorney General Victoria L. Vreeland of Vreeland Law PLLC, which also represents Rabidou along with attorney Benjamin Compton.

The suit seeks “judicial intervention” in the matter, plus fees and court costs.

Vreeland was appointed as a special assistant by the state’s attorney general to bring the action, a press release from Vreeland’s office said.

Though filed in the county’s own superior court, the lawsuit will be transferred to a visiting judge.

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