The elected prosecuting attorney in Okanogan County will resign next month, citing an inability to handle caseloads with existing staff and “racially motivated attacks” from the community.
Arian Noma drafted a resignation letter earlier this month that was released to the public and news outlets in Okanogan County. The resignation takes effect Jan. 15, two years after Noma assumed office as the Republican in charge of the county’s legal office.
Noma, in a phone call Wednesday, deferred further comment on his resignation until after it takes effect in mid-January. The resignation letter expresses exasperation with budgetary constraints preventing him from hiring new attorneys to handle cases, as well as a coordinated effort on social media to attack Noma and his family.
“I routinely received vile attacks about my race, ancestry, and even the color of my skin,” Noma wrote in his resignation letter. Noma’s ancestry includes Native American, immigrant and Black heritage.
In his letter, Noma references a Facebook page that had not only been critical of his leadership of the office, but also included images of his personal vehicle and other attacks that he said went beyond the scope of his office.
That Facebook page, in a rebuttal to Noma’s letter, said its criticisms of the office were not inspired by race, and that images of the prosecutor’s personal vehicle were taken to show his alleged absences from the office.
Among several criticisms posted to the page is a letter sent by Noma to Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley in September, stating that the presence of armed counterprotesters at a Black Lives Matter rally in the county could be seen as intimidation and open those carrying guns to potential criminal prosecution under Washington state law.
It will now be up to the Okanogan County Republican Party to forward a recommendation of appointment to county commissioners, a board made up of two Republicans and one officeholder who lists no party preference. As of Wednesday, two people had applied: Dave Stevens and Melanie Bailey.
Stevens served as a deputy prosecutor in Spokane County from 2002 to 2010, when he filed to run against his boss at the time, County Prosecutor Steve Tucker. He then moved to criminal defense, representing Gail Gerlach, a Spokane journeyman plumber who faced criminal charges after shooting and killing a man attempting to steal his truck, and Anthony Bosworth, a political activist who was charged with a federal crime after carrying a rifle outside the Thomas S. Foley U.S. Courthouse.
Stevens has served as a deputy prosecutor in the Okanogan County office since January 2018, handling felony criminal cases.
“I’ve got a good relationship with law enforcement. I love Okanogan County,” Stevens said in a phone interview this week.
Stevens said he would address the additional caseload by trying more cases himself, and making an effort to move certain cases into the district court first. That would allow attorneys to spend more time focusing on more serious felony cases handled in Superior Court.
Bailey, who previously held Stevens’ job as the chief deputy criminal prosecutor, now practices criminal law on her own. She wrote in an email that her previous work in the office would allow her to make necessary improvements to its efficiency.
“The Prosecutor’s Office needs strong leadership and to regain the confidence and trust of the citizens of Okanogan County,” Bailey wrote in an email Thursday.
Bailey questioned whether the office is “woefully understaffed” as Noma contended in his resignation letter, but said she would need time to assess the needs of the office if appointed.
The Republican Party is accepting applications for the position through Friday. Those interested can email a letter of intent, résumé and any other documentation to firstname.lastname@example.org, said Christa Lavine, the party’s chairperson.
State law requires an elected prosecutor to be registered to vote in the county they represent and be permitted to practice law.