Adult criminal cases focus of new Pierce County Court Commissioner

Pierce County Superior Court is the first Superior Court in the state to appoint a commissioner whose duties are exclusively focused on adult criminal cases, according to a statement released last week.

Commissioner Patrick H. Oishi was sworn in as Criminal Court Commissioner on Jan. 14. Commissioner Oishi previously served 12 years as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for Pierce County, where he worked on teams that focused on a broad range of criminal offenses. Most recently, Commissioner Oishi was in private practice at the law firm of Lee Smart in Seattle, where he practiced complex civil litigation.

Senate Bill 5151, passed by the Legislature in 2009, authorizes the appointment of Court Commissioners to assist Superior Court Judges in adult criminal cases. Under this legislation, Criminal Commissioners can preside over arraignments; preliminary appearances; initial extradition hearing; acceptance of pleas as authorized by local court rules; appointment of counsel; determinations of probable cause; setting, amending, and reviewing conditions of pretrial release; setting bail; setting trial and hearing dates; and authorizing continuances.

Pierce County Superior Court obtained approval from the Pierce County Council last fall to appoint a Court Commissioner whose duties are exclusively focused on adult criminal cases. Superior Court applied funds from three federal grants to support the new Criminal Commissioner position with no burden to the Pierce County budget.

Through the collaborative effort of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, Pierce County Corrections, and the Department of Assigned Counsel, criminal dockets and court schedules have been radically changed to facilitate the Criminal Commissioner presiding over a broad range of proceedings. According to Presiding Judge Bryan Chushcoff, this is of great significance for all parties involved with criminal and civil cases because a Superior Court Judge, who otherwise would be presiding over such matters, will now be available to preside over trials.

“During these difficult economic times, Pierce County Superior Court is exploring new methods that will enable the Court to improve the efficient administration of justice and processing of cases while minimizing the cost to local government,” said Judge Chushcoff. “Thanks to action by the Legislature and the County Council, we were able to appoint Patrick to this grant-funded commissioner position, which will free up judges for trial work.”