Election candidates for Snohomish County Prosecutoranswer questions

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Who should lead the 202-person office responsible for prosecuting felony and misdemeanor cases and represent the county in civil cases?
Voters will select between Jason Cummings and Brett Rogers to be the county's next prosecutor this November.
The position has no incumbent as Adam Cornell is not running for re-election.
It is a partisan election. Rogers, 52 of Lake Stevens, is a Republican. Cummings, 51 of Edmonds, is a Democrat.
Cummings became the Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor in the county prosecutor's office in 2007 and has been with the office since 1999. Prior to that, he worked in the prosecutor's offices of King and Kitsap counties.
Rogers is a police lieutenant with the Seattle Police Department who was admitted to the Washington state bar in 2008. He joined Seattle's police department in 1996 and has worked for its professional standards office, and in the department's audit team.
Ballots will be mailed Oct. 20. The election is Nov. 8.
The Tribune asked the candidates four questions and is reprinting their written answers below. Rogers returned answers first and leads off:

 Looking at the office today, what is the highest priority that the Prosecutor’s Office should achieve during the next year?

Rogers: I have several priorities but they could fall under the umbrella of setting a new tone in how Snohomish County responds to crime. Voters are electing a prosecutor, not defense counsel and not a social worker. We have an adversarial justice system by design. We can ensure that everyone’s Constitutional rights are protected and that the accused are treated fairly, and still work to keep our communities safe by vigorously prosecuting our criminal laws. We need to tackle a massive backlog of felony cases that has been allowed to accumulate while more efficiently responding to today’s crime.
 Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison was able to reduce the median time for her office to make charging decisions from four months down to three days. I have been contacted by local crime victims who tell me that after two years they are still waiting for a charging decision from the County Prosecutor. It may not be easy or comfortable, but the prosecutor’s office can increase the cadence of its work.

Cummings: The highest priority is to rebuild lost experiential capital. Ten years ago, we had twice as many attorneys with the experience required to handle homicides. Currently, our limited number of experienced attorneys – who have existing caseloads and often supervisory responsibilities, are called upon to handle more homicide cases. This burden impacts the office’s ability to handle critical cases, burgeoning caseloads, and increases stress upon our senior attorneys. We have requested additional resources in the 2023 Budget – including a training attorney and the creation of a trial team to focus exclusively on homicide cases. Due to the shutdown of trials during the pandemic we lost over two years of trial development. It is critical to rebuild that experience – through both training and trials. It is imperative that we recruit and retain experienced attorneys to increase capacity to handle felony caseloads.
The office will always prioritize violent crimes, sex crimes, and crimes against children. However, the type of crime that impacts most citizens are non-violent offenses. We also requested an additional attorney to focus exclusively on non-violent, prolific offenders to enable the office and the law enforcement to focus on the offenders that make the most work for the criminal justice system.

How do you view the usefulness of the therapeutic alternatives to prosecution (TAP) program? If elected, would you continue to utilize TAP, and would you expand or shrink how many people are diverted to enter into TAP?

Rogers: I agree with the underlying goal of TAP, namely diverting lower-level, non-violent suspects into treatment under certain, limited circumstances. In order to properly consider TAP’s future, I would need to review internal documents and reports to get a sense of the success rate of the program; do people who complete TAP refrain from committing additional crimes? I haven’t been able to find any publicly available statistics about TAP. If the program is unsuccessful or underutilized, I would need to consider whether those resources could be better used elsewhere.
My most significant concern about TAP, as it currently exists, is that a person with three felony convictions could be eligible for the program. I believe a distinction can be made, especially when it comes to drug addiction, between someone who made a bad decision because of their addiction, versus a repeat offender who finances their drug use by committing crimes. At present I lean toward excluding those with multiple convictions and those whose conduct is trending in the wrong direction.

Cummings: The TAP and Diversion unit is an important program that addresses the root causes of criminal behavior – helping to prevent crime rather than respond after the fact. Several years ago, the county conducted a study of alternatives to traditional criminal prosecution and found that the Prosecutor’s TAP/Diversion program was extremely successful at reducing recidivism, repaying restitution, and getting offenders the resources they need to deal with the underlying problems that led to commission of a crime – often substance use disorder or mental health conditions. I have been an advocate for the program for many years and will absolutely maintain the program. While we must be willing to entertain ways to expand alternatives to traditional prosecution – particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s invalidation of our possession of a controlled substance law, we must always ensure community safety, limiting participation when someone has committed a violent crime.

In what ways might you rebalance assignments within the prosecutor’s office? In other words: Should different priorities be given more manpower, and others less manpower?

Rogers: Since the State of Washington reimburses the Prosecutor’s Office for work in the Family Support Division, it essentially leaves only the Criminal and Civil Divisions for any meaningful adjustments. While the Prosecutor’s Office has other duties, public safety will always be my top priority. As I mentioned earlier, the Prosecutor’s Office has a massive backlog of charged cases and as yet un-charged felony referrals. I will need to take a look at the workload of the Civil Division and determine how much of that work is critical or high-priority before deciding if any adjustments should be made. Considering the increase in crime and the criminal case backlog, I think it would be poor management to maintain “X” number of deputy prosecutors on the Civil side simply because, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Cummings: The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has always prioritized violent crimes, sex crimes, and crimes against children. They will remain my priorities as your next Prosecuting Attorney. With the limited resources of the County’s General Fund, the office has not had sufficient funding to achieve the necessary staffing levels. The 2023 budget request by the office specifically seeks additional resources to address complex homicide cases, prolific non-violent offenders, and critical training. These additional resources will help focus on the most critical cases, while at the same time allow the office to address non-violent offenders.

 What is the greatest reason you believe you’d be the right choice in guiding the Prosecutors’ Office’s future?

Rogers: Crime and disorder have been on the rise for a number of years. The actions and decisions of the County Prosecutor absolutely play a role in crime levels and the livability of our neighborhoods. It is time for a fresh perspective and a different approach. The role of the elected prosecutor is to manage the Prosecutor’s Office, not try cases.
In addition to being a lawyer I have over 20 years of law enforcement, including management, experience. I have led large teams of law enforcement professionals, developed policies and strategic plans, triaged and assigned work, ensured that line staff have the training and tools they need to do their job, and ensured that the work was in fact getting done. I believe accountability is for everyone and have four years’ experience conducting internal investigations for Seattle PD.
 I decided to run because too many government officials appear to think there’s nothing we can do about crime so we’d better just get used to it. We can reduce crime with better policies and decisions. I will bring my law enforcement and legal experience to the prosecutor’s office to make Snohomish County safer for everyone.

Cummings: Experience matters. As the only candidate that has handled criminal and civil cases, who has spent over 23 years serving this county, and who understands the operations of the office and county government, I am uniquely qualified. I want to be a central voice on matters affecting the health, well-being, and safety of our community. This is a critical time for our law and justice system, and it is essential that the Prosecutor take a leadership role as we plot a course through the challenges that lay ahead. As the Chief Civil Deputy, I have worked hard to protect jobs and provide resources for the entire office. Moreover, I am prepared to utilize the positive relationships and the good will I have developed over the past two decades to partner with the Executive, Council, Sheriff, and courts, to collaboratively work through this transitional time of reform. I believe my years of leadership and experience with the operations of both the office and county government as a whole, will serve me well in that regard. Finally, as Prosecutor, I want to advance the policy goals and objectives of every County elected official by providing clear, balanced, and impartial legal advice.