Oct 28, 2022 - Politics

Prosecutor candidates diverge on criminal justice reform

Photo Illustration of Jim Ferrell and Leesa Manion.

Jim Ferrell (left) and Leesa Manion. Photo Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Courtesy of both campaigns.

Washington state's most populous county hasn't had a new top prosecutor in 15 years — but that's about to change.

Driving the news: The retirement of longtime King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg has created a rare open seat. Competing for the job are Leesa Manion, Satterberg's chief of staff, and Jim Ferrell, mayor of the city of Federal Way.

Why it matters: Both candidates favor more money for law enforcement and cracking down on fentanyl dealing.

Catch up quick: The last time there was an open race for prosecutor in King County was 1978, when Norm Maleng was elected.

  • When Maleng died in office in 2007, Satterberg was appointed to fill the vacancy. He was then elected four times, helping make incumbency a defining feature of the office in recent years (it has no term limits).

State of play: Ferrell, a former senior deputy prosecutor, is campaigning on the need for change, calling Manion a "de facto incumbent."

  • Manion, meanwhile, says Ferrell's approach to prosecuting crimes is outdated and wouldn't build on the success of recent criminal justice reforms.

The intrigue: Both candidates identify as Democrats. Yet the state Democratic Party is supporting Manion over Ferrell, who was a Republican before changing parties in 2012.

Of note: If elected, Manion would be the first woman and person of color to hold the office.

Here is a look at some areas where the candidates disagree.

Juvenile diversion programs

Manion often talks about the success of the county's new pre-filing diversion program for juveniles, Restorative Community Pathways, citing early numbers that found kids who participated in the program had lower recidivism rates.

  • Ferrell, however, said he doesn't think crimes such as robbery, felony assault and residential burglary should be eligible for the program, and that such cases need to be filed in court.
  • "You're not doing those kids any favors by looking the other way, because that's what this is," he told Axios.
  • Manion said prosecuting those cases would defeat the program's purpose, which is to keep kids out of the court system and connect them with community services to address their underlying needs.

State police reform laws

The two candidates also split on a new state law that restricts when police can chase people fleeing in vehicles.

  • Ferrell says the law should be rolled back, calling it "an outrageous handcuffing of the police" that he says has fueled a rise in car thefts.
  • Manion, meanwhile, said the limits were imposed because high-speed pursuits are dangerous. She noted that former King County Sheriff John Urquhart wrote an editorial talking about how the new law reflects longtime safety best practices.
  • "The reason legislators made this change is because they looked at the data, and there were individuals getting killed in high pursuit chases — not just regular residents, but also police officers, often for misdemeanor crimes," Manion told Axios.

Felony case backlog

Ferrell says the prosecutor's office hasn't done enough to erase a backlog of 4,500 felony cases awaiting trial. He said a new internal unit should be created to help prioritize.

  • Manion says cases stacked up mainly because prosecutors continued to do their jobs and file charges while the court system shut down during the pandemic.
  • She said the backlog has been decreasing because of actions she took, such as obtaining $14 million in federal COVID relief funds to hire more staffers.

Investigating public officials

Manion said she would have called for an investigation early on into whether former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan illegally deleted public text messages from their city-issued phones.

  • Ferrell said that wasn't the job of the prosecutor's office.

Police support

Ferrell is supported by several police unions, including the Seattle Police Officers Guild, the King County Police Officers Guild and the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs.

  • Manion said she hasn't sought the support of police unions because she wants people to know the prosecutor's office is independent when it is called on to investigate police uses of force.

What's next: Ballots are due by Nov. 8. If mailed, they must be postmarked by that day, or they can be returned to a ballot drop box by 8pm.


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