First of two profiles about candidates for King County prosecutor. Coming Tuesday: Dan Satterberg. For a candidate who says partisanship...

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First of two profiles about candidates for King County prosecutor. Coming Tuesday: Dan Satterberg.

For a candidate who says partisanship has no business in the office he seeks, Democrat Bill Sherman makes no secret of his and his opponent’s party affiliations.

Sherman calls interim King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg “my Republican opponent.” And while Satterberg’s yard signs indicate his affiliation with a small “R,” Sherman’s spell out the word “Democrat.”

That’s hardly a surprise. King County is strongly Democratic — a huge edge in a race featuring two candidates with little name recognition among most voters.

“Our frame … is to keep the focus on the political part of that job,” said Democratic campaign consultant Christian Sinderman, who is working for Sherman.

Satterberg is trying to combat Sherman’s party connection with an impressive list of endorsements from prominent Democrats who all pay homage to his nonpartisanship.

He also says that if elected he’ll push to make the prosecuting attorney position nonpartisan, like the sheriff’s office is now. Sherman calls that a publicity stunt.

The race pits Sherman, in his fourth year as a King County deputy prosecutor, against Satterberg, the former longtime chief of staff for Republican Norm Maleng.

Maleng held the prosecutor’s job for 28 years until his death last May. Satterberg was appointed interim prosecutor by the Metropolitan King County Council.

Democratic leaders see Sherman, 39, as their best chance in decades to claim the office, which oversees about 520 employees and a $56 million annual budget.

Republicans have held the job for 60 years. And it’s the last countywide seat they hold in King County.

Sherman’s critics point to his relative lack of experience compared with Satterberg’s 21 years in the office.

Sherman left a six-figure job at a private law firm in 2003 to make $48,400 as a deputy prosecutor.

But if experience matters, Sherman also wants voters to consider his time clerking for two federal judges and his work at the Interior Department under President Clinton.

Caught Babbitt’s eye

Raised in Mentor, Ohio, Sherman earned a law degree from the University of Michigan after working as an assistant in the Interior Department, where he helped plan President Clinton’s 1993 timber summit in Portland.

“He caught my eye — young, energetic, obviously bright, hardworking,” said former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who later tapped Sherman to join a team focused on streamlining department bureaucracy.

Babbitt said Sherman’s work in D.C. was “an excellent preparation to be manager in a public-sector job.”

After moving to Seattle in 1999, Sherman clerked for federal judges John Coughenour and Margaret McKeown before landing a job as an associate at Davis Wright Tremaine, a large downtown law firm.

William Rasmussen, a partner in the firm, said he and Sherman became friends. Rasmussen has donated to Sherman’s campaign and organized a fundraiser.

“He’s exceptionally qualified for the position,” Rasmussen said. “For somebody his age, he’s about as accomplished as he could be.”

Working as a prosecuting attorney always held an appeal, so Sherman left corporate law. “I wanted to be back in public service. It was something that mattered to me,” he said.

Sherman earns $77,460 a year as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney 5, the highest level below the next ranking, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney.

After serving in the Juvenile unit, Sherman rotated to Domestic Violence.

In his four years as a prosecutor, Sherman received high marks for his legal skills, especially for someone with no previous courtroom experience.

“Bill seems to have all the right tools and with time and practice should become an exceptional trial attorney,” his boss wrote in a 2005 performance review.

He took a leave of absence last year when he ran unsuccessfully for a House seat in the state Legislature representing Seattle’s 43rd District.

In June, Sherman took another leave to campaign for prosecutor.

Patricia Eakes, who recently left the prosecutor’s office after 17 years, doesn’t know Sherman. Although she is not politically active, Eakes considers herself a Democrat. Still, she contributed $1,000 to Satterberg’s campaign and hopes the Republican will be elected in November.

Satterberg has years of experience that Sherman lacks, Eakes said. That’s particularly important for an office that makes life-and-death decisions, as well as representing King County in various legal issues, she said.

“I would not think I’m qualified for that office, and he [Sherman] has far less experience than I do,” Eakes said.

Sherman is prepared when facing questions about his professional background.

“When people talk about experience, it is not just length of résumé,” he said. “It’s capability and judgment.”

Although Sherman has never tried a murder case, he noted that Maleng hadn’t either when he became prosecutor.

Maleng ran the civil division of the prosecutor’s office before being elected to the top job in 1978.

Most important, Sherman said, the Municipal League of King County rated both him and Satterberg as “Outstanding.”

“Anything else is just spin,” Sherman said.

Democratic backing

Sherman has two children, ages 7 and 4. His wife, Holly, is a guest lecturer in anthropology at the University of Washington.

Other facts: He lives in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood, Robert Kennedy is his political hero, and his cellphone ring tone is AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”

Sherman is endorsed by Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, the King County Labor Council, Mayor Greg Nickels and a lot of local Democratic legislators.

Earlier in the campaign, Sherman resisted touting his party affiliation or defining the election as red versus blue.

It was a conscious decision, he said, comparing his race with controversy surrounding the dismissal of U.S. attorneys by the Justice Department earlier this year.

“Republicans nationally have politicized prosecution and that has no place in what prosecutors do,” he said last month. “And on my watch, that won’t happen in the King County Prosecutor’s Office, or in the campaign.”

Sherman still says that politics have no place in the administration of justice. But he now points out how the Republican and Democratic parties differ on their approaches to such issues as drug crimes and environmental protection.

If elected, he said, he would put greater emphasis on pursuing environmental crimes and create a task force with the state Department of Ecology and local agencies.

Still, Sherman treads carefully when talking politics.

“When a single party has had control of an office for 60 years, change can be good,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that what was there was bad but a fresh approach, new energy and impatience with bureaucracy is something that people value without it being a negative comment.

“I’m running on my own qualifications, experience and priorities. I expect voters will look at that and make their decision accordingly.”

Staff reporter David Postman contributed to this story.