The position of King County Prosecuting Attorney serves as an anchor in the community, a formidable presence able to withstand churning political tides while remaining true to the fundamental values of fairness and justice.

At a time when local and state political leaders are more willing than ever to try law enforcement reforms, the region needs a prosecutor who is committed to both trying new approaches and personal accountability. Public safety must be the main concern.

Seattle Times editorial board endorsements: Nov. 8, 2022, general election

Voters should choose Jim Ferrell to be the next King County Prosecuting Attorney. He has the experience, priorities and people skills to become only the fifth person to serve in this important position in seven decades.

Currently mayor of Federal Way, Ferrell worked in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for 16 years. He helped create and later supervised the Domestic Violence Court Unit working with victims of violent crimes.

Ferrell’s experience as an elected executive leading a city government and its police department give him an important perspective on how decisions by the prosecutor’s office impact residents. While he is familiar with the job, Ferrell brings a fresh mindset to resolving the community’s law enforcement challenges.

These have been difficult times for the criminal legal system. Pandemic-related health restrictions upended courts and jury trials. King County Executive Dow Constantine ordered fewer jail bookings to stop disease spread. The George Floyd murder sharpened calls for police reforms. Violent crime spiked, here and across the nation.

Advertising

Friction between South King County mayors and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office predate the pandemic. In 2019, Ferrell said he and others met with top prosecutors to question their filing decisions, contending they do not rigorously enforce laws and too often look the other way to resolve cases.

Ferrell supports programs that offer alternatives to jail. But he also wants greater accountability from the network of nonprofit providers that have sprung up to win public contracts for counseling and rehabilitation.

The other candidate in the race, Leesa Manion, has served as chief of staff to Prosecutor Dan Satterberg for the past 15 years. In January, Satterberg announced his retirement.

A focal point of the campaign has been a juvenile offender program called Restorative Community Pathways, which offers counseling and mentoring instead of traditional oversight and detention for young people who otherwise might be charged with nonviolent crimes.

Ferrell says he and other mayors were not briefed on the program before its unveiling. He has several criticisms. He objects that juveniles facing serious felonies are eligible for this program, and he says there is no accountability to complete requirements such as counseling or drug treatment. He wants such diversion programs for juveniles to be under the auspices of King County Juvenile Court, which would oversee cases and monitor progress.

“Diversion programs are a critical piece of the criminal justice system, especially as it relates to juveniles,” Ferrell told the editorial board. “I support diversion programs. I support restorative practices. I don’t support programs that are the product of essentially looking the other way.”

Advertising

Manion says such judicial oversight would slow down the process, and defendants would be represented by defense attorneys advising them not to cooperate. She contends that prosecutors know which defendants participated in services.

This editorial board believes there should be more oversight not only of juvenile offenders but of the many service providers who are paid public money to help them. Ferrell would push a much-needed reset button on these efforts to ensure youth are truly being served while also protecting public safety.

While the backlog of 4,500 charged felony cases in King County Superior Court has many causes, Ferrell makes tackling this situation his top priority. He would triage cases, prioritizing violent crimes and dismissing others. We agree with Ferrell’s sense of urgency.

The November election presents the possibility of change.

To be sure, Manion boasts many community supporters. If this job were selected by politicians instead of voters, she would very likely ascend to the top job. Continuity has been the trend lately. The interim Seattle Public Schools Superintendent, Seattle Police Chief and King County sheriff all eventually got the nod from their respective bosses for the permanent position.

The King County Prosecuting Attorney is elected by the people, and voters have the chance to go in another direction. Ferrell represents an important opportunity for an outsider with experience to shake things up in the Prosecutor’s Office, rebuilding the pride and loyalty once found among its attorneys and staff.

Ferrell’s base of support is in South King County, a robust and growing region that has not always been heard in the corridors of power. King County Prosecutor is a nonpartisan position. While both candidates are Democrats, party politics should be treated carefully. Before the editorial board, Manion was wrong to repeat vague and easily refutable “concerns” about the leanings of Ferrell’s donors and supporters.

King County has a long history of innovation and risk-taking when it comes to implementing alternatives to traditional prosecution. At this time of tension and tumult, a new leader is needed to enforce accountability and regain public trust.

Voters ought to choose Ferrell for King County Prosecuting Attorney.