The Seattle Times editorial board asked the candidates for King County Prosecutor, Leesa Manion and Jim Ferrell, four key questions. Here are answers to two. Read their answers to questions on diversion programs and sexual offenses and Alex Fryer’s Opinion column on the race.

Question: How should the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office weigh the background of the accused against community safety and justice for those harmed when making charging decisions?

Jim Ferrell: First, I believe in second chances, but not revolving doors where the same criminals commit the same crimes without being held accountable.

Second, I am the only candidate in this race who has ever tried a criminal case. As a Deputy Prosecutor assigned to the Special Assault Unit, I have filed and tried hundreds of these cases. I know these cases firsthand.

Third, charging decisions must be based solely on the evidence and follow-up interviews. A suspect’s background can only be considered for bail requests and then pretrial restrictions.

Fourth, the only other way a suspect’s background can be considered for charging and/or evidence at trial is modus operandi (M.O.) evidence. This cannot be offered to prove one’s propensity to commit a crime (e.g. if they did it before, surely, they must have done it again.) It could only be offered to prove motive, intent, or a unique method of committing that crime (M.O.). The admissibility of this prior misconduct evidence would be determined at a pretrial evidentiary hearing at the beginning of a trial.

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Fifth, for years, many of my fellow mayors and I have tried to work with the King County Prosecutor to address concerns over Filing and Disposition Standards and the practices of the KCPAO. We have met with their leadership. We are told crime is down. Crime is not down. In King County, in 2019, there were 73 homicides. Last year, there were 110. That is only slightly off the 116 all-time high of 2020. Our analysis shows a 28% increase in burglary. Statewide car theft is up 88%. Ignoring these numbers is not helpful.

Let’s work together regionally and have the difficult, but necessary conversations about crime. As Prosecutor, I will work with regional leadership to improve communication and rebuild trust!

Leesa Manion: An important component of public safety is addressing both crime and root causes. Individuals often continue to commit crimes, even after being caught and prosecuted, because the root causes of their behavior are not addressed. A thoughtful — and effective — criminal justice system can charge felony crimes, support victims, and help people stop cycles of criminal behavior. This is a narrative we risk losing as our political discourse becomes more polarized and divided.

For example, last spring the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office charged a man for committing 28 thefts of alcohol from a downtown Seattle store over the course of several weeks. To break the cycle of arrest and release for the nonviolent misdemeanor crimes of shoplifting typically handled by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, the PAO combined the total loss amount of all 28 thefts and charged this as a felony case in Drug Court, a minimum 10-month program that provides support to break the cycle of addiction that often leads to criminal behavior. Drug Court offers dedicated treatment, case management and housing. If he completes the program, the felony case is resolved; if not, he faces traditional prosecution.

In this case, the most important thing from a public safety perspective was to remove this individual from a cycle of harm — to the store owner and employees, downtown residents and visitors, and himself.

Under my leadership, the PAO will continue to review each case individually, taking into careful consideration the evidence, the individual’s history, and the variety of accountability options, whether that’s traditional prosecution, therapeutic courts, or the responsible diversion of nonviolent offenses.

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Workers, customers, and King County residents expect accountability. Accountability that addresses crime and root causes is achievable in this type of thoughtful and effective approach to public safety.

Question: With about 5,000 pending felony cases in King County Superior Court, how should the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office work to eliminate the criminal case backlog?

Manion: During the pandemic, the Washington Supreme Court, following health guidelines, issued an emergency order that closed courts, significantly reducing capacity and effectively halting the system’s ability to resolve cases. While these actions were necessary to protect people and save lives, they also resulted in an unavoidable backlog. After this mandate, our prosecutors quickly pivoted to video hearings when possible, but defendants have the Constitutional right to in-person hearings in most criminal cases. These types of court-related challenges and court backlogs are not unique to King County — they happened across the nation.

There is currently a backlog of about 4,500 charged felony cases awaiting trial and resolution. The number is high precisely because our team didn’t stop working during the pandemic. Prosecutor’s in our office were filing roughly 20-30 violent crimes, sexual assaults, gun crimes and felony property crimes each day.

I successfully secured $14 million in COVID-19-relief funding to help address the backlog of charged cases. Some of this money was used to hire 120 new positions, including 10 new victim advocates to increase our capacity and connect greater numbers of victims to services while cases are being resolved. This backlog of charged cases has been consistently decreasing since March 2021 because of this additional funding, the resumption of jury trials, and the hard work of prosecutors and staff. We are on track to eliminate this backlog of filed cases.

As Prosecutor, public safety will always be my top priority. This includes resolving cases in a timely and efficient manner, guarding against unnecessary delays, seeking justice for victims and respecting the constitutional rights of the accused. I will continue to challenge our judges to implement court protocols to accelerate case resolutions and continue to be transparent on our progress.

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Ferrell: The nearly 5,000 felony case backlog is completely unacceptable. The current Prosecutor, and my opponent who is Chief of Staff to the Prosecutor, have failed to deliver any discernible plan to address this backlog.

As Prosecutor, I will create a special unit to methodically address and review these cases. A triage will need to occur to prioritize violent and gun-related crimes, sexual assault cases and homicides.

I will work with the King County Executive and County Council to allocate emergency funds to hire pro tem judges to ensure these cases get their day in court. There are Constitutional requirements for a speedy trial. This has created a bandwidth issue with regard to case capacity. We must increase that capacity (bandwidth) in order to effectively and efficiently resolve these cases in line with that Constitutional requirement. I can tell you from experience, cases do not get better with time, for the accused or for the victims of crime.
Victims of crime and our community deserve timely justice!