Washington state senators conducting an inquiry into the state’s mistaken early release of prisoners have retained an attorney to help with their investigation. The vote occurred along party lines, with the GOP holding the majority.
OLYMPIA — Lawmakers conducting an investigation into the state’s mistaken early release of up to 3,700 prisoners have retained an attorney to help.
Thursday evening, the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee approved hiring attorney Mark Bartlett in a vote along party lines.
Republican state senators — whose investigation has already issued subpoenas for information regarding the error — supported hiring the investigator, while Democrats opposed it.
“I think it’s just another important step in getting to the truth,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, in a news conference after the vote.
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The miscalculation of prison sentences, which began in 2002, was discovered in 2012 by Department of Corrections (DOC) staff.
Although the department prepared a software-programming fix, it was delayed 16 times — for reasons that remain to be explained. A fix was implemented this month.
In announcing the problem in late December with DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke, Gov. Jay Inslee said he had retained Robert Westinghouse and Carl Blackstone, two former federal prosecutors, to investigate.
But Senate Republicans have said they are not satisfied that an investigation ordered by the governor can be considered independent.
A memo to the Facilities and Operations Committee from Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley and chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, spelled out why he wanted to hire Bartlett, also a former prosecutor. With information being provided by DOC and the governor’s office, “it is necessary to hire a qualified investigator to analyze the documents,” Padden wrote.
According to the memo, Bartlett will be paid $325 an hour, the same as investigators for the governor’s office.
Bartlett, who at one point in his career supervised Westinghouse and Blackstone, for a brief time represented indicted state Auditor Troy Kelley. He is a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine.
Under an agreement provided with the memo, Bartlett may also be called on to interview witnesses and help with subpoenas, fact-finding hearings and reports.
In a statement Thursday night, Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson, of Maury Island, described the move to hire Bartlett as “wasted taxpayer money on a duplicative and politically-driven investigation.”
Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Inslee, wrote in an email that Bartlett’s hiring “will not distract us from ensuring completion of the ongoing investigation.”
Officials have said two people were killed in 2015 by prisoners released by mistake while they still should have been in prison. The prisoners have been charged.
Other offenders who were freed have been rounded up by DOC to serve time remaining on their sentences.
Inslee and Pacholke have said they learned only last month of the miscalculation of sentences.
The estimated number of prisoners potentially affected has risen to 3,700.