|Incumbent Russ Hauge|
Tuesday night I watched a forum with the four candidates running for Kitsap County Prosecutor, in the county where I grew up, just outside of Seattle. It was apparent to me that all three of the challengers saw an opportunity to defeat the Democrat incumbent, Russ Hauge, primarily due to his 15-year selective targeting of a local gun club, which I wrote about here.
I am supporting conservative challenger Bruce Danielson, who is running as an Independent. There is a Republican in the race, public defender Tina Robinson, but she seems rather unsure of the issues and doesn’t have a realistic chance at winning. Danielson, on the other hand, almost beat Hauge four years ago.
The forum began with opening statements. Hauge, who was dressed in an expensive suit and shiny yellow tie, immediately came across as arrogant. His opening statement seemed to consist of nothing but bragging, “I can do this job, I’ve been doing it for 20 years.” Then he rambled incoherently about “therapeutic courts,” which lost everyone’s attention.
Robinson said in her opening statement that she is running for the position because she has observed many abuses in the prosecutor’s office under Hauge, from overcharging and undercharging to abuse of resources and lack of compassion for the victims.
Bruce Danielson said he has more experience than any of the candidates, including the incumbent, in a broader range of areas. He said to judge the current prosecutor using the facts. Since Hauge took office, recidivism rates in Kitsap County have increased more than 400%! Meanwhile, the rest of the state has been undergoing a DECREASE in recidivism. Hauge claims that he’s been endorsed by all the county leadership, but Danielson called him out, saying that’s not accurate. The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Guild has been without a contract since 2009! There have been findings of unfair labor practices by the prosecutor’s office as well as unlawfully withholding documents. One prosecutor conducted ex parte contact with a judge. This isn’t just about the gun club, Danielson said, this is about our chief law enforcement officer alienating officers on the streets. There have been 13 DUIs and nothing was done about them until now.
Scales criticized Hauge in his opening statement for acting as an administrator, not hands on. Referring to Hauge targeting the gun club over spite, Scales said, “temperament is important, you can’t make decisions based on anger, resentment or bitterness. As a prosecutor, you can’t take things personally. As soon as you do, you lose the respect of the people. The current prosecutor makes the same mistakes he made 20 years ago, over and over again.”
MOST URGENT PUBLIC SAFETY HEALTH ISSUE
Robinson said the most urgent public safety issue is the drug problem, especially heroin. Scales, sounding like a moral relativist, said it depends on your perspective. Hague said the most urgent issue is mental illness. Danielson had the most common sense answer: crimes of violence, such as invasions of home and property, resulting in the destruction of lives. He said there are lots of repeat offenders in this county due to revolving jailhouse doors under Hauge. The prosecutor’s office has forgotten about the victims. Those problems then spill onto other people.
DEATH PENALTY MORATORIUM BY GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE
Danielson questioned the use of executive power to stop the death penalty, saying the decision of whether to have the death penalty should be decided by the people and the legislature. Of course, if the governor issues it, he’s bound to obey it, since he is required to follow the law. Scales defended the overreach, saying it is within Inslee’s power. Hauge’s response was convoluted and hard to understand, he seemed to try and have it both ways.
Hauge droned on and on about substance abuse, putting everyone to sleep talking about drug court. Scales sounded like an ivory tower professor, talking theoretically, saying we need to “try a variety of options,” to fix the mental health problem, whatever that means. He did point out though, that one problem with the prosecutor’s office is they allow anyone to go through the therapeutic court, including burglars and drug dealers.
Danielson observed that a lot of diversion programs could be used with the mentally ill, drug abusers, etc. He said we tend to look for a magic bullet to solve everything, but there isn’t one. Some of these people can’t be helped, since they will continue to re-offend.
Scales said he couldn’t find an organizational chart of the office in public records, so he had to put in a request for one. He discovered that there are 18 supervising attorneys, who receive salaries totaling $2.1 million, and only 22 deputy attorneys, with salaries totaling $1.8 million. There were also numerous chief deputies making huge salaries. Instead, there should only be two chief deputies, and not so many supervisory positions.
Danielson would remove prosecutors from level traffic court, which is pretty menial work. Instead they need to be in district court and superior courtrooms dealing with real problems.
Robinson admitted she didn’t know much about the civil division. She did point out there are problems on the criminal side; the felony early plea unit utilizes three prosecutors who only do that; they could be better used in the trial units, especially for felonies e.g. burglary and assault, where the majority of crimes are.
Hauge admitted he wouldn’t fix any of those issues, would just let them sit. “I like the way it’s organized just fine,” he declared. “Everyone carries a full time case load except me.” He admitted the office has cut back on juvenile court by over 50% in the past few years.
Danielson said that vertical prosecution – the practice of assigning only one prosecutor to a case the entire way through – has a lot of value, but it can’t be used for every case. There are cases that could really use it, because victims are getting ignored by the prosecutor’s office, especially in crimes against the elderly and those who are susceptible to injury through the actions of others, and financial crimes. They call and they can’t get ahold of someone. Robinson agreed that there are cases currently falling through the cracks due to them being transferred from prosecutor to prosecutor. Hauge had nothing to say about it other than defining what vertical prosecution is.
Danielson said there is no one-size-fits-all answer to prosecuting marijuana crimes. The prosecutor’s office has limited resources, and things are different now that marijuana has been legalized. He would reallocate the money to deal with more pressing problems. Although it has to be at the low end of priorities, there is still a danger posed to youth and those susceptible to the lure of drugs. He would focus on prevention and education, and prosecute those who break the law. Robinson said she agrees with Danielson.
Hauge went off on a rant about young people and edible marijuana, then ranted about the legislature and the definitions of marijuana. Scales started muttering about diversion programs in his monotone voice, which put the audience to sleep again.
MARIJUANA PRIOR OFFENDERS
Scales explained that anyone who had been convicted of simple possession before the law went into effect would have finished a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail by now, so he clarified that there is no need to go back and change any sentences.
Danielson said what much of the public doesn’t understand but prosecutors do: Those pot smokers who are in jail are there for other crimes, not marijuana possession. Regardless, this issue belongs between the court and the person arrested. The prosecutor doesn’t have the power to go back and change the law, nor should we try to. Our duty is to follow the law.
GUN CONTROL – INITIATIVES 591 & 594
Robinson admitted she hadn’t bothered to read either initiative, which resulted in some wide eyes from the audience. She vaguely and weakly said she’s probably not for increased background checks.
Danielson came out strongly for 591. He said 594 is an old wives’ tale. “There is no ‘gun show loophole’ out there. You’ve always been able to give and sell guns to a friend or relative. These people just want to further regulate guns. The last thing this government needs is further regulation and red tape. Criminals are going to use guns illegally. The only ones that are hurt are law-abiding citizens.”
Scales started bragging about his background, and completely ducked the question of whether he supported 591 or 594. Hauge, known for being one of the biggest gun-grabbing prosecutors ever, said he supports 594, claiming it takes a reasonable, small step. He asserts he’s a gun owner, and that it has been shown that there would be a “marginal” positive effect, but didn’t explain how.
LAW ABOUT ADULTS LEAVING LOADED GUNS AROUND
Next, the candidates discussed a recent tragic situation in the county where a child accessed his stepfather’s firearm, accidentally shooting a girl. Hauge charged the stepfather with assault, but the Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision, saying Hauge cannot charge him with assault since he wasn’t directly involved. The legislature is now considering legislation to make it a crime not to lock up your firearm. Danielson said what the stepdad did was horrible. But where does this end? You leave your keys on your dresser and your child drives off and something bad happens, so do we make leaving your keys on the dresser a crime too? A law isn’t going to change what happened.
Hauge’s response was difficult to understand. He said he wants the legislature to hold off until this case has gone forward. It sounded like he’s not sure, unlike Danielson, who was very clear that a law like this is not going to help. Scales said the problem is the prosecutor charged the stepdad for a crime that doesn’t exist. Hauge tried to create one, and the Supreme Court said no, you can’t create this. Scales said it was pathetic Hauge did this to make a political point. Robinson agreed that the prosecutor overstepped in charging this crime.
Danielson noted that Hauge likes to discuss his many journeys to Olympia as part of his job, especially how cozy he is with the governor. The prosecutor should best serve the citizens by working within the office on priorities. Their duty is to work for the residents, to protect them – that’s where the prosecutor belongs.
Hauge said the 400% recidivism rate cited by Bruce is inaccurate, but didn’t bother to offer any reason why or evidence to support his claim. He said that Scales doesn’t understand the office structure, and weirdly claimed that all the supervisors aren’t really supervisors.
Scales said Hauge uses affidavits of prejudices with judges to blatantly disqualify judges who have ruled against him, which is an abuse of the prosecutor’s office. It degrades the reputation of the office, and damages the relationship the prosecutor must have with the bench. It should only be used where judges indicate they cannot be fair or impartial.
Danielson reminded the audience that he brought up all these problems about Hauge’s office four years ago, when he ran against Hauge and came close to beating him. The voters decide to give Hauge one more chance. But now we are dealing with the Guild issue, and the fact that Hauge’s stated expert committed unfair labor practices. Danielson would put individuals in the office who would negotiate with the Guild, and give them the contract they’ve been seeking since 2009. He would also implement a repeat offenders policy. He would clean up the civil division, which has spent thousands of dollars going after the gun club for 15 years. He would remove the personal animosity elements of the office. It’s about being a leader, it’s not about being a manager. He would protect the citizens and tax dollars, leading by example with honesty, integrity and forthrightness.
Scales’ closing statement mumbled something about victims. Robinson agreed with Scales that the priority is victims, and noted that currently, victims are being ignored and lost; the current process enables defendants to delay and avoid consequences.
Hauge’s closing statement contained his most arrogant and out-of-touch remarks of the evening. He boasted, “Look at the facts. My opponents describe an office that I’m not familiar with. I have the support of the rest of the justice system because I’ve earned it. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to listen to me or go look for the facts yourselves.”
Kitsap County voters may not be able to agree on Republicans or Democrats or another party, but the one thing they CAN agree on is, after hearing all of these candidates from across the spectrum of political views, is that Hauge needs to go. With his selective prosecution and out of touch arrogance, refusing to improve virtually any part of the office, he has been a terrible prosecutor for the county. No wonder three – not just one – challengers have jumped into the race to replace him.