Real Issues, Real Solutions
Prosecutorial injustice is slowly bankrupting Thurston County.
Our county is in crisis. The County Commissioners are spending more money than is coming in. About 75% of our General Fund is spent on Law and Justice: the Prosecutor’s Office, the courts, police, defense counsel, coroner, and the county jail (keeping people locked up). While crime remains steady, our new jail is already overflowing with people, and we take money from our county's emergency reserves to keep it full. Every year, our county slides closer and closer to insolvency. In addition, our constitutional rights are being disrespected, and the human potential lost as a result is vast.
This has to change.
Our Prosecutor's Office is mismanaged and out of control.
Did you know most of the people in our county jail have not been convicted of a crime? Although presumed innocent, most defendants are not serving sentences; they are waiting for their trial date and cannot afford to post bail.
Sadly, in our County the right to a speedy trial is given lip service, but continuance after continuance is sought by our deputy prosecutors or caused by untimely production of evidence to the defense. Defendants lose their jobs. Eventually, the accused serve more time in jail than they would get if actually convicted. Many become discouraged, and wanting to get back to their families and out of jail, they plead guilty to a crime even if they know they are innocent. Their real crime? They are too poor to afford to post bail. No-bail, recognizance release, and electronic monitoring must be rethought and expanded for low-level alleged offenders.
And justice delayed is justice denied. Withholding evidence is wrong, unethical, and leads to unjust verdicts or pleas. Seeking high sentences on minor crimes is a waste of tax dollars and wasteful of human lives and potential. It hurts our economy to routinely lock people up even for one day longer than they deserve - and locking up innocent people, who deserve no punishment whatsoever, destroys faith in our system.
The truth is that in Thurston County, constitutional rights are secondary to conviction rates because the deputy prosecutors are running the office unsupervised and unguided. There are virtually no office protocols governing exercise of prosecutorial discretion in filing cases, turning over evidence, calculating reasonable pleas, or in requesting consistent, fair punishment. Evidence is withheld or slowly produced, rather than given over promptly at or near the beginning of each criminal case. Multiple continuances cause our courts to be swamped and overcrowded. No one is really running the Prosecutors Office.
Defendants have a right to a public, open trial, under our state and federal Constitutions. But we as members of the community also have a First Amendment right to peacefully attend trials. Secret rulings on matters of public interest, such as prosecutorial misconduct, must be stopped. Sunshine laws and open courts should be the rule. And if a prosecutor threatens members of the public for peaceful observing open trials, or cruelly mocks them -- well, that is disrespectful and unprofessional, and certainly unbefitting conduct for public servants, who are paid to do justice for ALL of the people. And such acts may expose the County to civil rights liability, because prosecutors, at best, only have qualified immunity for such acts. So stopping unprofessional conduct is important financially too: denying people their Constitutional rights could lose the County money in civil judgments or the costs of defending against lawsuits.
If elected, I will implement basic protocols, rules of conduct, filing & trial guidelines, and sentencing policies that prosecutors must either follow or seek approval from experienced supervisors for exceptions. No one will be "flying solo," unsupervised, any longer. These things have been in place in most prosecutors' offices since the 1980's; I will bring this Prosecutor's Office into the modern era. Only by imposing clear rules can each prosecutor's performance be measured against standards of behavior, or fairly disciplined.
Our "Potemkin Village" diversion programs aren't real and aren't working.
In Catherine the Great's Russia, a regional governor named Grigory Potemkin hid the people's poverty and want from the Tsarina during her train tour of the conquered Ukraine by creating portable, brightly painted facades for dilapidated buildings near the railway. Potemkin would move the facades as the Tsarina travelled, and had his soldiers dress up as and play the roles of happy, healthy, waving villagers. The Tsarina was fooled because she saw what she wanted to see, so she did not look closely.
In Thurston County, we the voters, have for too long, played the role of Tsarina Catherine the Great: we have the power to make change through our votes, but have been fooled by appearances and wanted to believe we were making progress.
Unfortunately, many of our so-called "diversion" programs are mere "Potemkin programs." The only thing they actually "divert" is attention -- from the embarrassing fact that year after year, our County continues to waste tax dollars and human potential on criminally prosecuting and incarcerating mentally ill and homeless low-level offenders.
Some estimate it costs about $9,000 per day to run a courtroom; certainly, whatever the price, it costs just as much to try a one-day armed robbery jury trial as a one-day marijuana possession trial. Many of these lesser crime defendants could have been sent to pre-booking diversion for drug treatment or homeless services in the first place, rather than be processed by the criminal justice system, with its costly lawyers and judges, into jail or prison. And you, the taxpayer, pay the price for these systemic failures.
Did you know in Thurston County (according to 2017 figures from the Sheriff's Office) we pay $117.38 per day (approx. $43,000 annually) to keep a person in jail? Over a year, that’s enough money to pay the county’s share of THREE new schoolteachers’ salaries!
Why are low-level street nuisances (who should have been sent to pre-booking diversion for mental health, addiction, or housing services) being churned through our very expensive criminal justice system as defendants? Why are presumed innocent, nonviolent poor defendants needlessly held in jail at county expense?
Habit. Mismanagement. Lack of basic protocols or guidelines. Poor training. Failure to properly exercise appropriate prosecutorial discretion, common sense, or human decency. We need to concentrate our limited County resources on serious felonies, not use them to send a homeless man whose legs blocked the sidewalk to state prison at a cost of over $100,000 to the taxpayer (a real Thurston County case!). Using "cases filed - convictions obtained" as a measurement of success is unsustainable.
But part of the problem has been us: you and me. In years past, we have not looked behind the "Potemkin program" facade to see the reality: our current diversion programs are not working well. (Drug Court and Veterans Court, started many years ago, were a good starts, but are difficult to scale because relying on courts to handle the volume of people with mental health or drug issues is far too expensive to be a realistic long-term solution.) But we see the problems now, and have the power to change it.
One example of a "Potemkin Program" is Thurston's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (L.E.A.D.), which took months to organize. It has been in full operation about eight months, but only one person has been diverted. Unfortunately, the L.E.A.D. program in Thurston County has been so distorted from the original template in Seattle that it cannot be certified as a true L.E.A.D. program.
Another Potemkin program is the mental health "Triage Unit" in our jail, which is spoken of as a "reform," but it too is a mirage. The so-called "Triage Unit" is only a designated space in the jail, not an actual, working program that has helped a single human being -- or saved one penny of county funds.
These Potemkin programs give us the comforting illusion of reform without saving lives or tax dollars. What Thurston County needs is functional, efficient, and just pre-booking diversion programs to handle these low-level offenders with drug, housing, and mental health issues. This can only happen with an ongoing commitment of care, time, and effort from a reform-committed Prosecutor.
Reform must be a reality, not a mere word to make us feel better. Let us be sensible Americans, deal with reality, and take action.
Reforming the Prosecutor's Office will bring Real Justice.
If elected, I will reform our Prosecutor’s Office so that our County has the potential to live within its means, and will seek to ensure real justice is done in every possible case: past, present, and future.
I will shine sunlight upon any past errors of this Prosecutor’s Office and use that knowledge to inform new, ethical practices alongside modern practices and procedures. We will start this by working to create an independent Conviction Integrity Unit process to attempt to cure or mitigate past injustices, and to provide knowledge as to which individual prosecutors truly seek justice, and which, if any, habitually abuse their authority.
I will work cooperatively with our police agencies and county commissioners to create working, cost-saving pre-booking diversion programs so we might focus our limited trial resources primarily on serious crimes.
I will plan, with the help of public and private defense counsel, and help our judges implement, multi-track criminal case management (recommended almost four years ago without action, according to Presiding Judge Murphy, by the Prosecutor's Office) to cull whenever appropriate existing, filed criminal cases for special handling a la the Veteran and Mental Health courts. And we will set out clear, written ethical and procedural guidelines, manuals, and protocols for our prosecutors, as most offices have done since the late 20th century.
Such sunshine and policy clarity will also better inform voter decisions as to which persons holding public office are consistently doing a good, fair job respecting their oaths of office, and which could do a better job.
Only then can we bring real justice to all people of Thurston County, not just a select few. I vow to implement TRUE criminal justice reform, STOP the out-of-control growth of the 75% Law & Justice chunk of the county's General Fund, and faithfully and ethically serve ALL of the public as your elected Thurston County Prosecutor.
Fairness is the right thing to do. It also saves tax dollars which can be used for roads, schools, and other public services. With your help, amazing things can be accomplished and our County can become a true leader in sensible, financially sustainable, criminal justice reform. But none of this is possible without your support and your vote.
Real Reform. Real Respect for human rights and our people. Let's bring Real Justice to Thurston County. Together, we can do this!