By Randall Gaylord, San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney
Following are the County Prosecutor Randall Gaylord’s remarks to the San Juan County Council on July 12, 2012, regarding reductions to the prosecutor’s budget: “Objections to a ‘Service Level’ Approach to the Prosecutor’s Budget.”
At your request, in May I prepared an budget for 2013 three months early providing you with the additional information showing the practice areas of this office together with some easily available, but very rough workload indicators along with a narrative that explains the laws that define the work we do and the standards and tight timeframes that we face as prosecuting attorneys.
Since the request for this budget package went out, Administrator Pete Rose has left and now the Interim Administrator has another approach that he refers to as “Service Levels.”
The service level approach does not work for an attorney’s office.
I want to make myself perfectly clear. I will not make adjustments to the service level of the prosecuting attorney office.
I learned early in my legal career that adjustments to the “service” levels of legal work can lead to many things: disappointment by the client, stress on the lawyer, unpaid legal bills, and bar complaints. I want none of those things for me or the people who work for me, so I’m not going down that path.
When this office undertakes a matter we have an ethical obligation to perform the legal skills at a “service level” set forth by the Washington Supreme Court and the Washington Legislature. Our choice is not to provide a lower service level. Our only choice is whether to do the work at all.
We have found that our workload has not changed in a material way since 2008. We still need all of the people who were doing the work in 2008. Looking solely at FTEs is not the solution. If you want to make reductions in FTEs you need to say what work you will reduce.
What does that mean for you? The answer depends on the practice area. As you know there are three practice areas funded by the general fund; criminal prosecution; civil defense and advice; and coroner.
First, with respect to the Coroner work: we cannot delay or cut the service level of coroner work. Two deputy prosecuting attorneys and I are available as first responders 24/7 for that work. After responding to the emergency we must deal with family members promptly.
There is no other person who can do it. It is done effectively with a minimum expense to the county. We own no equipment. Transportation of dead bodies is privatized. We use the Snohomish County Medical Examiner to perform about nine or 10 autopsies a year. That operation must remain unchanged.
Second, in the criminal area: our work is determined by the level of crime in the community. If you reduce the number of sworn officers in half, then you will reduce the number of cases that are brought to our office and we will charge out and prosecute half as many cases, at a level that can be managed with one deputy prosecutor. Quite frankly, we need two deputy prosecutors so that we can attend over 2000 court hearings a year, read every report, research the law and prepare for court. The day of operating an office with one criminal deputy prosecutor went by in 1995. It has long passed. Turning back the clock to 1995 is not a solution.
Third, in the civil area: We are a service organization in a unique relationship. I don’t get to choose you as the client, and you don’t get to choose us as the lawyers.
The voters choose us and expect us to work together.
So, I am looking to you for direction on where you will reduce legal your legal services. Technology and innovation alone won’t replace the service of a lawyer or a legal assistant.
In the levy lid lift, you promised the voters to keep the lawyer working on land use and GMA matters working full time and save that person from cuts. You can’t go back on your word there.
Here are some questions I have for you:
What is your legal strategy for addressing growth management issues, critical areas, and code compliance?
What is your plan next year to reduce the number of contracts, resolutions and transactions?
How will you reduce your lawsuits next year? I have heard many threats of Growth Board Appeals and lawsuits of those appeals. I have heard lawsuit threats over other subjects too including land use, public records, police conduct, contracts and other matters. The changes in the solid waste system will require plenty of legal work, and the experience from other Counties shows this field has a high risk of lawsuits. This is no time to be reducing legal staff.
What is your legal policy on cases that are in court? Do you know that many of the opposing counsel to our office are the “Super Lawyers” of the State … in criminal law, land use, real estate and environmental fields? Are you ready to take allow judgment be taken against the county?
If the City of University Place is used as an example, as the Interim Administrator suggests, you will see that there a service level reductions results in a corresponding increase in the use of outside counsel. Outside counsel is great when we need it — up to $500 per hour — which may be fair, but is 10 times more than we pay staff lawyers.
My approach is exactly opposite of that. My intention, my approach, is to retain deputy prosecutors so that they bring to this Office and to the County the knowledge and depth that only continuity will assure. We have both heard the stories of other counties that have switched to outside council only to return to a system that we have always used here of have the lion’s share of the work done in-house.
Please do not disrupt the good law and justice system for this county. Please use your voice to support the public safety sales tax and assure this community gets the kind of justice system that it wants.