PubliCola Questions: Seattle Municipal Court Judge Adam Eisenberg

By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle Municipal Court races tend to fly under the radar at election time, buried under higher-profile campaigns for statewide and local legislative offices. Not this year. Two seats on the court are currently up for grabs (along with five other races where incumbents are uncontested) and the people running for each seat could hardly come from more different perspectives.

In the race for judicial Position 3, public defender Pooja Vaddadi is challenging incumbent Judge Adam Eisenberg, who has served on the bench six years. Vaddadi is running against Eisenberg from the left, calling his decisions in some cases excessively punitive and vowing to take a more compassionate approach to sentencing. On Saturday, October 22, Vaddadi released the first of what she said would be several statements from women who worked at the court in some capacity accusing Eisenberg of misogyny and discriminatory treatment of women.

Eisenberg, who just became presiding judge this year, spent years hearing domestic violence cases and helped establish the Domestic Violence Intervention Project, a treatment program for domestic violence offenders. Prior to his appointment in 2017, he was a municipal court commissioner and, before that, a criminal prosecutor, making this a race between an ex-prosecutor and a current defense attorney.

PubliCola sat down (virtually) with Seattle Municipal Court candidates during September and October.

PubliCola (ECB): You piloted a program called the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, which provides counseling, treatment, and other services to people who commit domestic violence and want to change. You’ve touted this program as a success, but is it evidence-based? What can you point to, in terms of research on this or similar programs, to demonstrate that DVIP is more effective than other approaches, including jail?

Adam Eisenberg (AE): : Most one-size-fits-all DV treatment programs aren’t that effective. We believe we’re adopting the best practices in the county. When we started the program in 2018, we knew we wanted to make it a research-based project. Two researchers at the University of Nebraska Omaha came on in 2019 to help us make sure it’s effective, or determine whether it is or isn’t effective. We’re up to almost 400 people, and the people who have been in the program [so far] have a lower recidivism rate for domestic violence—like 15 percent lower than folks who didn’t complete the program. It’s very preliminary, and recidivism isn’t the only thing we’re looking at, but the bottom line is we’re actually looking at this the program through a research lens.

The difference between us and drug court is we do have regular hearings, but we stretch them out farther and give them more time. It’s not as intensive as drug court, where you show up every two weeks. The multidisciplinary team meets on a fairly regular basis and they might massage the intervention without the court necessarily pulling the person out of the program. We review at the half-year mark and another six months later, which is partly for data. And one of the things people are told when they enter DVIP is, “We want your feedback. We want to know what works and doesn’t work, so give us honest feedback,” and a lot of people actually do.

I’m trying to get another program off the ground. This is something I learned about when I was in a conference in 2019, four months before COVID hit. I met a judge in Brooklyn who was doing a juvenile court really low-level juvenile DV, like throwing a phone and smashing it. They would send them to a 12-week class to teach them how to have empathy, how to communicate. We don’t do juveniles, but we do 18 to 24 years, and I started talking to attorney general’s office about something that might even be prefiling diversion, or it could be pretrial [for that group].

The new city attorney [Ann Davison] and [criminal division head] Natalie Walton-Anderson are very interested in figuring out if we can get this off the ground. If there’s someone out in the community that might be able to put these classes on, that could be a huge game changer for very low-level DV where someone does not have an extensive history.

“Community court is meant to be a triage court—get them in and get them into services and get them on their way. There are some people who are not good candidates for it, and figuring out how to help them is an ongoing challenge.”

ECB: Speaking of Davison, her office pushed for, and won, the exclusion of so-called high utilizers of the criminal legal system from community court, a therapeutic court that’s aimed at addressing the root causes that lead people to commit low-level crimes. Did you support Davison’s efforts?

AE: This whole conversation happened before I became presiding judge. But the thing to understand is the prosecutor has discretion. They can walk away. This is a voluntarily cooperation between the parties. And so when the prosecutor said we want to ID this list of people that are not going to be eligible for community court—there are people who don’t belong in community court. It’s meant to be a triage court—get them in and get them into services and get them on their way. There are some people who are not good candidates for it, and figuring out how to help them is an ongoing challenge for the court. As a judge I recognize that she does have discretion. Whether that list is the right way to do it, I don’t know.

ECB: Many people fail to show up for their first appearance, and appearing physically in court can be a significant barrier to people who are homeless, lack phones, or are struggling with basic needs. Do you support efforts to make court more accessible, either to people facing charges or their case managers?

AE: There’s an argument if you make them come to court, you’re holding them accountable [but] if you make them come to court twice, you’re infringing on their lives. There’s this pushback about, if you make them come to court to take a class on life skills, if you make them come to court to get a phone, if you make them come to court to get hooked up with health care, you’re infringing on them. You’ve given them too many responsibilities. What happens if they fail to show up? I can tell you in the last five or six years, we have not been putting people in jail for failing to show up. We’re just not doing the model anymore that we did in the 1990s where if someone doesn’t show up, you put them in jail for 90 days.

The cases that I’m most concerned about are ones where people are getting hurt, like DV and DUI. Offering interventions for these folks is critical and interventions are alternatives to jail. Over time, we have held people in jail less and less. But there are folks where, for various reasons, there doesn’t seem to be any other remedy to keep the streets safe or keep the victims safe.

[Former] Judge [Ed] McKenna said, if we’re holding people in jail for various reasons, why aren’t we giving them drug treatment while they’re in jail? There are so many people who go to treatment and walk away from treatment. I think if you’re concerned about trying to give people treatment In a way that they can’t walk away, doing it in jail might be one solution.

Judge McKenna got into a kerfuffle after the city and defense recommended that the person give [a frequent defendant] mental health treatment or drug treatment, and he gave them a year in jail. A year in jail is really 270 days, because the King County Jail gives a third off for good time. So the person got out within 270 days, and within 72 hours, he threw a coffee on the two-year-old outside of Old Navy.

So that case came in front of me. I knew the defense was going to come forward with a request to release him to inpatient treatment, and sure enough, they did. And the family was very much in favor of this person not being held in jail. They were very much on the side of treatment. The prosecutor objected, but the defendant came into court and said he’s tired of being in the court system. He’s in his 50s, he wants opportunity to do this. I agreed to release him to treatment, and he said he would go to treatment the next day. He walked away from treatment within 8 hours and got arrested on the warrant. But it might have worked, it might had changed him. So that’s the kind of decisions you have to make in this job—do I take the risk or not?

[If there was treatment inside the jail], it would have a better chance of succeeding, because he would have been able to stay in treatment and get the actual treatment. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: Seattle Municipal Court Judge Adam Eisenberg”

PubliCola Questions: Secretary of State Candidate Julie Anderson

By Erica C. Barnett

The Secretary of State has historically been a mostly administrative position; the primary duties of the office are to oversee and certify elections, manage the state’s physical and digital archives, and register corporations and nonprofits. In recent years, though—perhaps you’ve noticed—the mundane job of overseeing elections has become fiercely contested ground.

Despite Washington’s blue-state status, we’re still susceptible to disinformation and misinformation campaigns that threaten to erode voters’ trust in the entire voting system. Cyberattacks are becoming more aggressive and sophisticated, forcing the secretary of state’s office to keep up with evolving technology, and even benign changes to elections, like moving local races to even-year elections and implementing ranked-choice voting or other alternative systems, require a level of technical knowledge unheard of even 20 years ago.

In other words, it’s a good time to pay attention to who’s running for secretary of state. Incumbent Steve Hobbs, a longtime state legislator and moderate Democrat appointed to the job last year, says his military background (he’s a lieutenant colonel in the Washington Army National Guard), on-the-job education, and enthusiasm for innovation has earned him a full term; if elected, he would be the first Democrat elected the position in more than 60 years. Challenger Julie Anderson, the Pierce County auditor, says her years of experience as a local election official makes her a better fit; she’s running without a party label for a position she believes should be above partisan politics.

PubliCola spoke to both candidates for secretary of state earlier this month.

PubliCola (ECB): Running as a nonpartisan candidate has been a big part of your campaign. What risk do you see in the fact that this position is technically partisan, and if you’re elected, how will your lack of partisanship be reflected in the way you run the office?

Julie Anderson (JA): A good portion of the reason I’m running as a nonpartisan is personal. We’ve had two notable secretaries of state who did the same thing I’m doing—coming up through the ranks [of election officials] to hold the office. And they were both Republicans, and I believe did a good job and made decisions with integrity. So the obvious question is, what’s the problem, Anderson? The problem is, as Kim [Wyman] saw on her way out, one of her last decisions as secretary was to support a proposal to make the office nonpartisan. So clearly, she saw that partisanship was a distraction because hyper-polarization and partisanship has become more extreme and more influential in how decisions are made.

I see the same thing now. I have been a nonpartisan auditor in Pierce County for nearly 13 years. Our voters made it that way by a change to our city charter because they believed that their chief election administrator should be nonpartisan, and that has really benefited me and my ability to earn trust with both political parties. And it certainly has freed me of awkward or stressful situations where I’m expected to participate in party politics.

“What I’m excited about, and where my election experience comes into play, is that we need to start looking at alternatives to signatures. Young people haven’t had the same opportunities to perfect a signature though repetition, so they tend to sign things different ways. It’s also important for adults with disabilities.”

ECB: Do you think this position should ultimately be elected or appointed?

JA: I think we should look toward other international models of appointment, but let me be quick to say: Not the kind of political appointments we currently are experiencing, but one step at a time. My goal is to hold the office as a nonpartisan, get some breathing room, do a good job, build trust, and if the state legislature would like to start a conversation about a constitutional amendment to create a appointment process, I’m open to that and they would find a willing partner in me.

ECB: You’ve criticized the incumbent for a lack of experience in election administration. Can you give me an example of a scenario where your own experience running elections for Pierce County would make you better prepared than him?

JA: Having an understanding of the impact and capacity of local county administrators when you’re thinking of new programs and initiatives, understanding the constraints and capacity of county elections officials, and having a good rapport with them, is extremely important.

I also understand the technical systems that we use. Votewa.gov [the state’s voter information portal] is a very powerful tool that I was involved in creating—I was on the steering committee building that, creating the parameters and the minimum deliverables in that whole IT project and helping it go online.

Another dimension of practical experience is public records. I’ve been managing documents, indexing them, and making them publicly accessible for 13 years as the county auditor and it’s something I feel very passionate about. The Washington state archives were the second in the world to have a digital archive program, but since then, we’ve failed to keep up the pace of records. Local government and state government have created a huge number of records that are digital-native—what are we doing to prepare for the myriad of different types of formats and ingesting those in a n efficient way at the highest volume and turning around and indexing in those in a way that they’re accessible to the public?

All of the records that were created during the latest redistricting process, those GIS files and Census files were highly interactive. That’s a public record that is going to reside in the state archives. Is it being preserved as a flat file or is it interactive and preserved so that it’s most useful to the public? Those are the kind of questions I want to dive into, in addition to playing catchup on the paper files that local government keeps sending up the food chain.

We’ve also got regional archives, in addition to the new state library that is being built. Those regional archives and the Sand Point National Archives all have buildings that are less than adequate for what they’re doing, especially when you’re looking about paper records. I want to do an assessment of all those facilities to make sure that we are able to preserves properly all the historic records that we have.

ECB: If you’re elected, what would you do to combat disinformation campaigns by foreign and partisan actors? Have you run into disinformation campaigns at Pierce County, and if so, how did you combat them?

JA: It’s a problem across the state, and we’re not exempt from it. I think that everything that is happening in battleground states rolls like a tidal wave over into Washington. We already work with federal agencies to help them detect election misinformation and disinformation on election nights.

I would improve civic education, and there are some great groups under the superintendent of public instruction that are working hard on that. I would join forces with them and find out what their best practices are. I would be fully engaged with the social studies teachers in high school, as well as community groups who have a role in civic education. I would also lean into organizations that are focused on critical thinking and media literacy.

ECB: What cybersecurity system improvements need to be made to ensure that all of the information under the purview of the Secretary of State is protected from data breaches or similar threats?

There have been no breaches that I’m aware of, and certainly no breaches of voting systems in Washington state. They have been scanned, yes, have they been probed, they have been subjected to denial of service attacks. We work with our Homeland Security partners and all the cyber information security officers in each county to continuously monitor our firewalls, and Homeland Security notifies us instantaneously if there’s a vulnerability and we get on it and patch it.

What I would do is pay more attention to county governments, which doesn’t necessarily mean the election offices. Elections offices depend on county information and IT staff to support their security. We do things like absolutely use two-factor authentication, absolutely make sure we’re monitoring data, but when it comes to the desktops that we use, when it comes to our physical security, that’s all at the county level.

Penetration testing is the thing that you do to test your system security, and right now Homeland Security has about an 18-month waiting period to make sure you get pen tested. And so I’m going got do an audit to see which counties have been pen tested and get all the counties on a schedule to do pen testing. I also want to make sure every county is doing an air gap test so we know that the system is not only connected to the internet, it can’t be probed or penetrated by a cellular device or by a Wi-Fi device.

ECB: What would you do to reduce racial disparities in ballot rejections? Are there better ways to track ballots or inform voters when their ballots have been rejected?

JA: I suspect that there are other things in elections that have the same disparate impacts, whether it is completing a registration or filing for office. I’m super happy that the legislature provided funding to the University of Washington to start collecting election data so that we can be looking at this holistically and geographically. We need to make sure that when we’re sending out those cure notices [so voters can make sure an improperly rejected ballot is counted], or we’re sending instructions to voters to ensure that their vote is counted, that they’re easily understandable. I would do usability testing, which is kind of like a focus group where you get randomly selected participants and see how they interact with your materials and test whether it is easily understood and actionable.

What I’m excited about, and where my election experience comes into play, is that we need to start looking at alternatives to signatures. Young people haven’t had the same opportunities to perfect a signature though repetition, so they tend to sign things different ways. It’s also important for adults with disabilities. I don’t have a solution, but I know that the commercial sector has found solutions in this digital age. It’s not going to replace signatures. We’re going to do what we always have done, which is create alternatives so that voters can choose what’s best for them and allow it to migrate over time.

“Consolidating elections would focus voters, but there are a lot of downsides that really concern me. I can tell you that every county auditor has to go begging and scraping to their county council to fund their programs, and county councils that are economically distressed are going to say, ‘You’re only funding elections every other year—why should I fund a year-round program?'”

ECB: What would you do to increase voter turnout, especially in non-Presidential election years?

JA: Voter turnout is very cyclical, and it’s the very lowest in local elections following a Presidential election. There’s not as much money being spent, but also there’s a lack of engagement and stickiness between the electorate and local government, I really want to help locate governments get local voters more engaged in their local elections. The secretary of state’s office can make it easier for [local elections offices] by helping  get into this cadence of boosting people’s awareness of those local off-year elections. That can help, but it’s going to require everybody grabbing an oar and pulling in the same direction.

ECB: Can you give me an example of what would that look like in practice, and how you would go beyond standard get-out-the-vote campaigns?

JA: I like the idea of pooling philanthropy dollars with government dollars and then granting them out through the secretary of state’s office, in a very neutral fashion, to local organizations and individuals who know their community the best and will use those funds for turnout. The strategies are going to be very different among different populations. It’s the local community members who know what’s going to be most effective. Our job would be making sure that our outreach campaigns are politically neutral and are using best practices and are low-barrier.

ECB: Would moving all local elections to even years improve turnout and engagement, as advocates for eliminating odd-year elections have argued?

JA: Consolidating elections would focus voters, but there are a lot of downsides that really concern me. I can tell you that every county auditor has to go begging and scraping to their county council to fund their programs, and county councils that are economically distressed are going to say, “You’re only funding elections every other year—why should I fund a year-round program?” The other problem is that the way that we keep voters engaged is by constantly mailing things to voters, and if they don’t respond or keep getting returned, we can get them back in active status. If we’re only voting every two years, given that 10 percent of the population moves every year, we’re going to be in a world of trouble.

 

PubliCola Questions: Secretary of State Steve Hobbs

Steve Hobbs Voter Guide image

By Erica C. Barnett

The Secretary of State has historically been a largely administrative position; the primary duties of the office are to oversee and certify elections, manage the state’s physical and digital archives, and register corporations and nonprofits. In recent years, though—perhaps you’ve noticed—the mundane job of overseeing elections has become fiercely contested ground.

Despite Washington’s blue-state status, we’re still susceptible to disinformation and misinformation campaigns that threaten to erode voters’ trust in the voting system and election outcomes. Cyberattacks are becoming more aggressive and sophisticated, forcing the secretary of state’s office to keep up with evolving technology, and even benign changes, like moving local races to even-year elections and implementing alternative voting systems like ranked-choice voting, require a level of technical knowledge unheard of even 20 years ago.

In other words, it’s a good time to pay attention to who’s running for secretary of state.

Incumbent Steve Hobbs, a longtime state legislator and moderate Democrat appointed to the job by Gov. Jay Inslee last year, says his military background (he’s a lieutenant colonel in the Washington Army National Guard), on-the-job experience, and enthusiasm for innovation has earned him a full term; if elected, he would be the first Democrat elected the position in more than 60 years. Challenger Julie Anderson, the Pierce County auditor, says her years of experience as a local election official makes her a better fit; she’s running without a party label for a position she believes should be above partisan politics.

PubliCola spoke to both candidates for secretary of state earlier this month.

PubliCola (ECB): You were appointed to this job a year ago and don’t have any prior experience overseeing an elections office, which is something your opponent has brought up on the campaign trail. What kind of learning curve did you have, and do you think your experience so far qualifies you for this position?

Steve Hobbs: (SH): There was really no learning curve—hardly any. Because of my leadership experience from being in the military and managing large organizations, plus 15 years in the state legislature, serving the National Security Agency, being a public affairs officer, and having graduated from the various Department of Defense schools that study strategic threats and information warfare, it was easy to step into the job. The only thing I had to learn a little bit about was the other functions of state government. I knew about corporations, charities, and nonprofits, because I interacted with them before. But I hadn’t interacted a lot with [the] state legacy [division], which is basically our history of our state. So that was really exciting, kind of diving into there and seeing if we can take it in a new direction and talk to different people that affected the history of our state.

“When you go to the state level, you’re overseeing different counties and assisting in the process of elections. We’re doing the certification. We’re assisting with the outreach. And on top of that, the position of Secretary of State has evolved [to include] the security of our elections and combating misinformation, and that’s something that [my opponent] Julie [Anderson] does not have.”

We have state library services in our state institutions—our prisons and our state hospitals. So I wanted to know, can we use this facility and the people in it as a way to help with rehabilitation and help prepare those who are incarcerated for life outside. And so we’re looking at things like increasing the number of people [working] in those libraries, and providing an opportunity for the incarcerated to learn skills to tell their story. So for example, we are looking at doing a prison podcast very similar to “Ear Hustle” in the California penal system, I would like to start a pilot project in Purdy [the women’s prison in Gig Harbor], because I don’t think there is a women’s prison podcast.

And then I would like to bring in other items to the library’s besides movies and books and music. I’m a big nerd. I don’t hide it. I’ve got strong ties to the tabletop gaming industry here in the state of Washington, and I’d like to have a games library [in prisons], and I would like to see if we can have therapy sessions in there. There’s this nonprofit called Game to Grow. They use [role-playing games] as a form of therapy for kids with autism and developmental disabilities, and they were talking about doing this with veterans for PTSD. Maybe we can do that in our state institutions. Why not? If it’s going to help people, let’s try to help people with it. So yeah, I’m really excited about this. And we got a bunch of new books, because some of the books are really old.

ECB:  Your opponent says she has more experience than you as an election administrator. How do you respond to that, and can you give me an example of something you’ve learned on the job?

SH: It’s kind of apples and oranges when you go to the state level, because you’re not running an election, you’re overseeing different counties and assisting in the process of elections. We’re doing the certification. We’re assisting with the outreach. And on top of that, the position of Secretary of State has evolved [to include] the security of our elections and combating misinformation, and that’s something that Julie does not have.

This year alone, we had to face three very sophisticated disinformation campaigns and a cyber threat, and you don’t get that at [the county] level. And you have to maneuver with the legislature to get your budgets and policies passed. So I understand she does have the experience at the county level that I don’t have, but she doesn’t have the experience that I have at the statewide level and at the experience of combating these outside threats that are threatening our elections.

ECB: What have you done or will you do to address the kind direct misinformation or disinformation campaigns that now routinely occur during elections?

SH: We have three ways to attack it. Number one is just reacting to a misinformation campaign the best we can—reaching out to our partners, reaching out on social media platforms, to correct the record. Two is a public service campaign, or information campaign, educating the voters about the process of elections. We have done such an awesome job, both county auditors and secretaries of state across the United States, telling people hey, don’t forget to vote.

What we have done a bad job on is talking about what happens before you get the ballot, and after you get the ballot and you submit it. Simple things like, hey, did you know that every signature is checked? Did you know that you can actually go to the election center in any county office auditor’s office, and you can see the process, you can see the ballots coming in, you can see the balance being counted? Did you know the tabulation machines that actually count the ballots are not connected to the internet, and you can’t hack into them? The average citizen doesn’t know about that. And because of that, these false narratives have been able to take hold because there’s nothing to counter it.

And then the other part is educating young people before they become voting age. A lot of them are sophisticated, and that’s great, because they can identify disinformation better than we can, but we trying to look at different ways to engage them. People my age and older will typically retweet or reshare Facebook posts without taking the time to find out, who is this person? Is this message real?

We have launched our Vote with Confidence campaign, which is informing the public about how elections are run [through ads on radio, TV and social media]. It’s all part of the effort to inform the voters this is going to take this is long term because 35 percent of Washingtonians have doubts about the election, according to a KING 5 poll. That’s a big hill to climb.

ECB: As you know, there are racial and other disparities in which ballots get rejected. Are there better ways to track ballots or inform voters when their ballots have been rejected so their votes can be counted?

SH: The only time we see curing–getting people to sign their ballot or re-signing it if the signature has changed—is usually during close elections, where both sides’ campaigns and usually the parties are involved, and they’re getting people out there to sign those forms by going door to door. There’s got to be a better way.

“I have Republican endorsements and Democratic endorsements. And I’ve been endorsed by the Association of Washington Business and by the Washington State Labor Council. So I love how I’m being attacked for being a partisan, but I’ve operated in a bipartisan manner.”

We have to do two things. One is we have to study why this is happening. And the other thing is, maybe we can lean forward and start doing some things now. And so we are right now in the process [of developing a system]—it will not be operational until next year—which will text the voter that their ballot has been rejected. Because right now, you can either go online to find out, or you’re going to get a letter in the mail, which is highly inefficient, and maybe a phone call. And a lot of this happens after election night at 8pm. So wouldn’t it be nice to get a text message right away, the moment your ballot is rejected, because you’ve forgotten to sign the ballot, or you didn’t sign because English is not your first language?

ECB: What have you done to improve language access in other areas, such as informing voters about elections before they vote?

SH: Language access is definitely an issue, because the only way you get voter guides out there [in languages other than English] is, you have to reach a minimum threshold in a particular county. So for example, Skagit County has a large Hispanic population, but because they didn’t reach the population threshold, you don’t have the voters’ guide going out there in Spanish, mostly because the county commissioners are not supportive.

What I would like to do that is a combination of things. One is trying to get more money in the legislature to provide funding to these counties so they can put out those guides, because a lot of it is driven by money. The other thing we’ve done is, I’ve created a department to do more voter outreach and education. I’m mirroring what is happening in King County under [Elections Director] Julie Wise, which is the trusted messenger program, where we hire people from a community that knows the language, that knows the culture, that can help us do the outreach. Now, I can’t hire enough people to do this. So we also have to team up with organizations in various communities.

ECB: Your opponent is running as a nonpartisan and has said the secretary of state should be a nonpartisan office. How do you respond to that, and what does it mean to you to run as a Democrat for this position? And should this position even be elected?

SH: I do think it should be elected. In terms of partisan or nonpartisan, I don’t think it matters too much. I think at this particular time, people trust Democrats more because what happened on January 6. But the thing is, the only way to change this office to nonpartisan is to pass a bill in the legislature, and they’re not going to do that the because it’s a two-party system. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: Secretary of State Steve Hobbs”

PubliCola Questions: Seattle Municipal Court Judge Damon Shadid

By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle Municipal Court races tend to fly under the radar at election time, buried under higher-profile campaigns for statewide and local legislative offices. Not this year. Two seats on the court are currently up for grabs (along with five other races where incumbents are uncontested) and the people running for each seat could hardly come from more different perspectives.

In Position 9, assistant city attorney Nyjat Rose-Akins is challenging incumbent Judge Damon Shadid, who got crosswise with City Attorney Ann Davison after she demanded that he exclude a list of so-called “high utilizers” of the criminal justice system from community court, which he oversees. When Shadid asked for more time to discuss Davison’s proposal with his colleagues, Davison went around him and got the full court to agree to her request; not long after that, Rose-Akins jumped into the race. Rose-Akins has focused on community court, arguing that the court should stop automatically releasing people from jail when they enroll and suggesting that therapeutic courts should be restricted to people accused of only the lowest-level crimes.

Shadid has overseen the SMC’s three therapeutic courts, which provide alternatives to the mainstream court system for some veterans, people with mental illness, and low-level offenders who agree to participate in a program that might include classes, treatment, or enrollment in health care.

PubliCola (ECB): Talk to me a little bit about some of your accomplishments and what you hope to do with another term.

Damon Shadid (DS): I started out in the court doing first appearances in the jail. Every time a new charge is filed and a person was booked into jail, they would come before me for a release decision. And I really saw firsthand the disproportional treatment of poor and BIPOC people in the jail, especially when setting bail. And it was that first year in jail that really set the tone for me and wanting to reform the criminal legal system.

Early on, the judges decided to abolish the [then-]current iteration of community court. And I thought that that was a huge mistake, along with Judge Willie Gregory. I knew that the system had to be reformed. I knew that we needed bail reform. And I knew that we needed to have a better way of handling low level nonviolent property crimes. And without a community court, that was very difficult.

So first, I tried to make reforms without consulting the city attorney’s office and the Department of Public Defense. That did not work out as well as I had hoped. And so once we got a couple of new judges on the bench, who I thought would be favorable to a new community court, I tried again. And this time I brought together at the Department of Public Defense, the city attorney’s office, and the court, and I was able to create a new community court fixed the errors of the past iterations.

“As we all know, BIPOC communities get policed heavier than white communities, and therefore have a larger criminal history and are discriminated against when it comes to therapeutic courts. We therefore made the decision not to include criminal history in your eligibility for community court.”

First, we made it a release-first model. This is what the city attorney’s office and my opponent are attacking me for—they don’t like the idea of a release-first model. However, what we’re doing here is on low-level property crimes, we are individually making assessments of what that person needs, as far as services, to get them out of the criminal legal system, and then we release them while trying to connect them to those services.

The second thing we addressed was racial disproportionality. As we all know, BIPOC communities get policed heavier than white communities, and therefore have a larger criminal history and are discriminated against when it comes to therapeutic courts. We therefore made the decision not to include criminal history in your eligibility for community court. If you were charged with certain kinds of crimes, then you were eligible, and only the judge would make the decision on whether or not you could enter, not the prosecutor. So we’re very, very proud of that. The community court has been a huge success. Ninety percent of people who show up for court enter the community court when given the opportunity, and 75 percent of those who enter graduate. That’s a big deal for us.

ECB: Your opponent has argued that the release-first policy has created a revolving door where people get arrested, automatically get sent to community court, and automatically get released to go commit the same crimes again. How do you respond to that?

DS: My opponent works for [City Attorney] Ann Davison. My opponent has not stepped foot in Seattle Municipal Court in six years—she has never come to community court to view it, either virtually or in person. Neither has Ann Davison. Neither has [deputy city attorney] Scott Lindsay. The only person who has ever come from the city attorney’s office is [criminal division director] Natalie Walton Anderson. And that was one time. And yet they have insisted that community court is a certain way, when it very clearly is not. And it’s been very frustrating.

The only thing that community court changed was that the prosecutor was no longer the gatekeeper of who was able to enter community court. However, and every single case, a judge makes a decision about whether or not that person is appropriate for community court. And a judge can screen out the person if they don’t think that that person or that crime is appropriate. However, if the judge agrees to it, then it is an automatic release.

ECB: What is the measure of success for you in community court? How do you know if it’s working with an individual?

DS: The way that I know that it’s working is people come before me every day, making transformative changes in their lives, that make me confident that they’re going to exit the criminal legal system. We have been able to hook people up with housing, with inpatient treatment, with mental health services, with Apple Care [Medicaid] insurance, right there at the court. And it’s these connections to services that the court needs to concentrate on. I just think this way is proven to have more positive effects for our community than putting people in jail, destabilizing them, making them lose their services, and then releasing them back into the community with less connections to services than they had when they entered.

ECB: We’ve talked a lot about community court. Are there other programs that you’ve worked on that you’d like to highlight?

DS: The next program that I really wanted to address was mental health court. I volunteered for mental health court four years ago, and I stayed for four years because I really felt like I needed to finish the job I started. The city attorney’s office was making these recommendations that were just unreasonable considering the amount of work the person was doing. They were demanding convictions. They were demanding jail time instead of doing a diversionary route. And after much discussion, we were able to negotiate with the city attorney’s office to get them to come way down on those recommendations to make the option much, much more attractive to defense attorneys. So we’ve tripled the number of people doing mental health court programming.

ECB: There was a lot of talk early on, before the primary, that other municipal court were going to have challengers from the right. Why do you think you’re the only one? Did it start with the clash over Davison’s proposal to ban high utilizers from your court?

DS: It all started with the high utilizers, certainly. When [deputy city attorney] Scott Lindsay and Ann Davison came in, they demanded certain changes, and I had a lot of questions about it. And they were unable to answer the questions regarding racial disproportionality, regarding how many people were (potentially mentally incompetent), but most importantly to me, how they were going to handle the people if they barred them from community court. They couldn’t answer the questions. But without the court’s permission, they went and reserved beds in the jail and got the jail to change booking policies for their high utilizers.

So I told them, “Listen, it sounds like you’re just trying to jail these people. You haven’t given me any other plan.” I said, “let’s wait for a couple of months before you take them out of community court, and let’s figure out how we can handle them together.” But they refused. I told them, I would take their proposal to the judges. And within 24 hours, Ann Davison went public with a press release, stating that I was refusing to negotiate in good faith with them. I didn’t want to battle this out in the press. But it was just false. I told them, “I’ve had 24 hours—I haven’t had a chance to talk to the judges yet about their opinions.”

After that, things went downhill. And I drew a challenger from Ann Davison’s office, who was using the same consultant that Ann Davison used, and who has made her singular issue the same misinformation about community court as Ms. Davidson was spreading. Now, did miss Davidson put her up to running I don’t know. I have no proof of that. What I do know is that she is using Ann Davison’s erroneous talking points in her campaign against me.

ECB: Let’s turn away from community court and talk about a related issue—bail. To what extent do you believe cash bail is necessary, and would you support eliminating it?

DS: Well, let me say off the bat that all cash bail discriminates against poor people. And therefore, it has to be reformed—you can’t have a system that discriminates disproportionately against one group of people and call it a justice system. That is not just. And when the original community court was abolished, jail bookings went up significantly. I already told you about how we tried to reform the cash bail system through a release-first model in community court. I would venture to say it is the largest and most effective bail reform that Seattle Municipal Court has ever implemented. And I would like to expand that.

People who come into mental health court suffer many more barriers than some of the other  defendants who come into the court. Many times, they’re violent or dangerous, and holding them in jail for too long exacerbates that problem for them. And so we’ve really beefed up our release planning with a new court clinician that allows us to have much more structured releases for people who might be a real threat to community safety.

“I will be the first to admit that I impose cash bail on defendants who I think are an imminent risk to community safety. And if I cannot structure a release plan that is satisfactory to protect the community, I will not release that person. However, I am very liberal about allowing defendants’ attorneys to add those cases back onto my calendar once they have a plan.”

My new project is to create what’s called a jail release toolkit that will be available to all judges. This toolkit will break down silos in the community, and will get more active partners and more centralized planning, to really hook people up with services instead of holding them in jail. The next logical step for Seattle Municipal Court is to really double down on all these planning efforts to avoid holding people on cash bail.

ECB: Are you opposed to cash bail in general?

DS: I will be the first to admit that I impose cash bail on defendants who I think are an imminent risk to community safety. And if I cannot structure a release plan that is satisfactory to protect the community, I will not release that person. However, I am very liberal about allowing defendants’ attorneys to add those cases back onto my calendar once they have a plan and to hear out a new argument for release. Many of my colleagues are reluctant to do that on a regular basis. But I have an open-door policy to re-argue release at any time. And many times we are able to come up with a satisfactory plan for release. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: Seattle Municipal Court Judge Damon Shadid”

PubliCola Questions: Seattle Municipal Court Candidate Nyjat Rose-Akins

Nyjat Rose-Akins campaign photoBy Erica C. Barnett

Seattle Municipal Court races tend to fly under the radar at election time, buried under higher-profile campaigns for statewide and local legislative offices. Not this year. Two seats on the court are currently up for grabs (along with five other races where incumbents are uncontested) and the people running for each seat could hardly come from more different perspectives.

In Position 9, assistant city attorney Nyjat Rose-Akins is challenging incumbent Judge Damon Shadid, who got crosswise with City Attorney Ann Davison after she demanded that he exclude a list of so-called “high utilizers” of the criminal justice system from community court, which he oversees. When Shadid asked for more time to discuss Davison’s proposal with his colleagues, Davison went around him and got the full court to agree to her request; not long after that, Rose-Akins jumped into the race. Rose-Akins has focused on community court, arguing that the court should stop automatically releasing people from jail when they enroll and suggesting that therapeutic courts should be restricted to people accused of only the lowest-level crimes.

Shadid has overseen the SMC’s three therapeutic courts, which provide alternatives to the mainstream court system for some veterans, people with mental illness, and low-level offenders who agree to participate in a program that might include classes, treatment, or enrollment in health care.

PubliCola sat down (virtually) with Seattle Municipal Court candidates in September and October.

PubliCola (ECB): Tell me a little bit about your experience as a prosecutor and in a pro tem judge, and what you’ve learned in those roles that would that you’d bring to the job of Seattle Municipal Court judge.

Nyjat Rose-Akins (NR): I was a prosecutor with the city attorney’s office for six years, and in that role, I basically did all the rotations. I did specialty court, which included mental health and community court, I did domestic violence court, I did the regular trial track, I was in charging. So I really was able to get a full understanding of all the things that are done in Seattle Municipal Court. And [a previous iteration of] community court was one of the first rotations I did in the city attorney’s office in 2010. And it was really interesting to observe and see just how alternative courts can really help and assist people.

As a pro tem judge in King County, I have done jail calendars, probation calendars, and arraignment calendars, as well as the first appearance calendars. And it has really been an interesting and rewarding experience over the last few years. As a prosecutor, I’ve been on one side, whereas as a judge, you have to consider all the individuals who are involved in the criminal legal system. It’s not just necessarily just the victim, but it’s the defendant, it’s the community, it’s everyone who is involved.

“The way community court is constituted right now, it doesn’t really hold people accountable. I think we can still be compassionate and hold people accountable, while also really getting people the services they need.”

So as a judge, you really do have to make some tough decisions sometimes, looking at the facts and the law and what each party is telling you. I’ve learned that if you are if you understand the dynamics of what’s happening, in the sense of looking at the case, looking at the history, and really listening to the parties, you can create solutions that may not necessarily make everyone happy, but balance out some of the things that are that are happening. And what may work for one group or one individual may not necessarily work for another defendant.

ECB: You’ve been critical of community court as it’s being run by your opponent, Judge Shadid. What has changed between the previous incarnation of community court and the current one, and why do you think it’s gone off the rails?

NR: When I did it in 2010, it was a smaller subset of cases, and people only had a certain amount of times to go through community court— I think it was no more than three cases. And the thought was that first case was your first opportunity, and then, maybe a year or six months later, you had another case. So it was a bit more structured. Whereas now, looking at the community court dockets, an individual can have five or six cases at one time. And I think that can be somewhat problematic.

If you’re in community court with four, five, or six cases at one time, and you opt in [to community court], the court is only going to take 14 days to adjudicate the case. But then after that, there’s nothing, really, that you have to do other than potentially make an appointment. And I don’t think that’s very helpful to people, if we’re seeing this as the group of people that really need resources and really need help. If you’re just going to make an appointment, and then not have to do your community service hours, I don’t know if that really sends a message of “We are here, we believe in you, and we want to really help you stop committing this sort of behavior.” I just don’t think it’s very helpful. And it’s really not doing much of anything, in my opinion.

ECB: If you’re elected to this position, you could have the ability to implement changes to community court. What kind of changes would you want to see?

NR: A lot of the cases that are in community court are theft cases. And in my job as an assistant city attorney—working in the community, working with businesses, working with other government department—I see the other side of just the rampant thefts that are happening downtown. I work close to Third and Pine and I often just walk down to that area. And so I would increase the time [people spend engaged with the court], because if we’re really talking about providing people with resources and helping them, then we need a little bit more time to do that.

When I took community court in 2010, as I said, the charges were very limited. It was really only thefts and maybe criminal trespass in the second degree. Right now, the charges that can go into community court are about 20 to 23 [types of] cases. I think that could be fine, except a few charges they may not be appropriate for community court, but I think people need some more time and more probation resources. A number of individuals who commit crimes may need a little bit more hand holding. And the way community court is constituted right now, it doesn’t really hold people accountable. I think we can still be compassionate and hold people accountable, while also really getting people the services they need. And I like the idea of really having a one stop shop, where multiple providers are in the court resource center at one time to really connect people. Zoom and calling in—sometimes that’s what we have to do. But I think it can also just disconnect people. A warm handoff, I think, is what most people need.

“We need to address [low-level misdemeanor] cases quickly. Are they the crimes of the century? No. But there are crimes that affect most all of us, especially if you live in the city. I’ve seen people stealing in the grocery stores, I’ve experienced or seen people trespassing— those are things that we all see on a daily basis.”

ECB: A lot of times people will fail to show up in court when they’re supposed to, especially if they’re unstably housed or have behavioral health conditions that make it especially challenging to make appointments. When you when you see that an individual has a lot of failures to appear on their record, what does that say to you, and is that a reason to penalize them?

NR: With COVID, we realized that we can do some of this stuff via video. And I think we do need to have some of those options, especially if we’re doing a review hearing or other certain types of hearings where people can maybe just pop in via Zoom. But looking at failures to appear—they do matter to me. Now, if they’re all failure to appears from many years ago and I see that someone’s been consistent since then, I am not going to hold that against someone. It is an individual by individual basis. But I do look at failure to appear, and it does matter, especially if someone has multiple cases and multiple failure to appears. And if they’re in different jurisdictions—not just Seattle, but also Pierce County or Snohomish County—then that, for me, signals that maybe there’s other things going on, and we’d love to see that person in court. So maybe bail is warranted at this time, because, you know, we’ve done multiple to orders to appear, and the court still hasn’t been able to get you into court.

My point is we need to address those cases quickly. Are they the crimes of the century? No. But there are crimes that affect most all of us, especially if you live in the city. I’ve seen people stealing in the grocery stores, I’ve experienced or seen people trespassing— those are things that we all see on a daily basis. And we’re getting to a place where people are now engaging in self-help. And that’s what’s concerning to me from a community perspective, when people are now saying, “I have to take matters into my own hands and take care of this myself,” because the court isn’t working and the police aren’t working to address it. And that’s what’s beginning to really concern me. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: Seattle Municipal Court Candidate Nyjat Rose-Akins”

King County is on Pace for a Record Year of Overdose Deaths

Overdoses in King County, 2012 (L) and 2021 (R)
Overdoses in King County, 2012 (L) and 2021 (R)

By Andrew Engelson

Tricia Howe, who directs an outreach program for drug users at REACH, Evergreen Treatment Services’ homeless outreach program, had firsthand experience of King County’s overdose crisis earlier this summer. In a matter of weeks, there were two overdoses outside REACH’s Belltown office.

“One of our case managers came into my office and said, “I think there’s somebody outside who doesn’t look like they’re breathing,” Howe said. “I grabbed a whole bunch of Narcan out of my drawer and ran outside.”

The man’s lips were blue, Howe said, and he wasn’t breathing, though he did have a pulse. She gave him a standard dose of naloxone nasal spray (Narcan), which can reverse the effect of opioids and restore a person’s breathing, but he failed to revive. So Howe gave him a second dose. “He took one deep breath, but was still not responsive,” she said. As Howe was preparing to administer a third dose, first responders arrived, put the man on oxygen, and he finally started breathing.

Based on the man’s response, fentanyl was almost certainly involved. The drug, which is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, can cause overdoses even among frequent opioid users. According to Howe, because fentanyl is cheaper to manufacture, it is quickly replacing heroin and oxycontin as the primary drug available to people who use opioids.

Data from the Washington State Patrol shows that the share of fentanyl in King County drug seizures has climbed dramatically, from around 10 instances in 2018 to more than 100 in 2021. Howe said that all of the counterfeit oxycodone (OxyContin) pills her staff have recently tested have been positive for fentanyl.

“It’s so available now and people are actually seeking it out at this point, where that was not the case before.” According to Howe, because fentanyl is cheaper to manufacture, it is quickly replacing heroin and oxy, and is making overdoses more common and more difficult to reverse. 

Though former mayor Ed Murray expressed early support for what would have been the first such sanctioned site in the US, Jenny Durkan’s administration showed little enthusiasm for supervised consumption. Durkan downgraded the plan in 2019 to a single site in a mobile van, citing concerns about the Trump administration’s legal action against a proposed consumption site in Philadelphia. 

A 2017 study showed that 83 percent of fentanyl overdoses in Massachusetts required a second dose of naloxone. Howe notes that overdoses of heroin or oxy were easier to reverse than fentanyl. “In the past, you could definitely expect the person to wake up and almost walk away,” says Howe.

Seattle and King County are in the midst of a severe overdose death crisis that began to spike during the pandemic and shows no sign of abating. People without shelter are particularly at risk. A ten-year study published in September by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office and Public Health Seattle-King County found that that accidental deaths nearly quadrupled  between 2012 and 2021 among people living unsheltered, and that overdoses now account for 71 percent of such deaths. 

As of last week, according to King County Public Health, there had been at least 710 fatal overdoses in the county this year. Of those, at least 473 involved fentanyl. That number has already eclipsed last year’s 708 overdose deaths, including 385 caused by fentanyl.

“When we first started our heroin and opioid task force in 2015, there were three fentanyl overdose deaths,” said Brad Finegood, a strategic advisor at the public health department. “The numbers have grown exponentially.”

Drug users tried to avoid fentanyl when it first arrived on the West Coast, Finegood said, but that attitude has dramatically shifted, and now people are actively seeking out fentanyl. According to a Pew study published in 2019 on drug use in San Francisco, more than half of opioid drug users now actively seek it, despite the dangers. Complicating matters, fentanyl is either smoked or vaporized and then inhaled, so traditional initiation barriers have fallen away.

“For younger people who are experimenting with drugs,” Finegood said, “that makes it much more feasible because they don’t have to use a needle.” Public Health and REACH have had to counter the misinformed belief that fentanyl is safer because it’s smoked rather than injected.

According to the US Department of Justice, most fentanyl originates in China and is made into pills or powders by cartels based in Mexico. Batches of fentanyl that are poorly blended can result in what Finegood calls the “chocolate chip cookie effect,” in which pockets of higher concentrations cause accidental overdose.

A young man named Ian who was living in an encampment near the Home Depot in the Bitter Lake neighborhood said in August that he had no choice but to start using fentanyl. Originally from Wasilla, Alaska, Ian said he first became addicted to opioids while taking Oxycontin for pain. “Then oxy disappeared,” he said. In 2016, the CDC advised doctors to lower prescription levels of oxycodone and this, combined with the Drug Enforcement Agency’s recent crackdown on illegal and fraudulent prescriptions, has made medical-grade pills rare.

Ian said that in the absence of oxy, he did heroin for a while. “Then that disappeared. Now it’s all fetty.”

Half a dozen people at the encampment told me they use fentanyl and know many others who do. Nearly everyone had witnessed overdoses and several said they knew people who’d died.

“Everyone’s doing fetty,” said Jessie, who’s 26 and has been using drugs, including meth, since she was 11 years old. She didn’t live in the Bitter Lake camp, but was helping a friend pack up their belongings before the city came to sweep the site. “I’ve been sober, but it didn’t last,” she said. When asked if she’d seen friends overdose, Jessie said, “Yeah, of course.”

The transformation of fentanyl from risky outlier to the opioid of choice in King County mirrors national trends. In 2021, fentanyl accounted for the majority of overdose deaths in the U.S, though methamphetamine continues to be a close second, both nationally and locally. 

Although Seattle, King County, and the cities of Renton and Auburn formed an opiate overdose task force in 2015, local leaders have shelved a key recommendation from the task force’s report: establishing two supervised consumption sites in King County. 

Seattle could have been home to the first such sanctioned site in the U.S., following the lead of Vancouver, B.C. and 200 other sites currently operating elsewhere in Canada, Europe and Australia.

Though former mayor Ed Murray expressed early support for what would have been the first such sanctioned site in the US, Jenny Durkan’s administration showed little enthusiasm for supervised consumption. Durkan downgraded the plan in 2019 to a single site in a mobile van, citing concerns about the Trump administration’s legal action against a proposed consumption site in Philadelphia. 

“It’s a no-brainer. If you don’t want people to use right in front of you and you don’t want needles all over your parks, then you’ve got to give people a place where they can go.”—Tricia Howe, REACH

Even as the Biden administration changed course and said it would consider allowing sites, neither Durkan nor Mayor Bruce Harrell followed through on the scaled-back plan. Earlier this year, New York City moved past Seattle and opened two safe consumption sites that have already succeeded in preventing 500 deaths.

Kris Nyrop, who spent two decades working on HIV prevention among drug users in Seattle and helped design Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, says the window for action in King County is quickly closing.

“We have two years,” Nyrop said. “Biden is not going to prosecute if Seattle moves forward. So how do we get Mayor Harrell and a majority of the council behind this?”

In fact, Councilmember Lisa Herbold added $1.1 million to the 2021 Human Services Department budget to create safe consumption spaces in existing social services facilities. The city did not move forward on that approach and Harrell’s proposed 2023-2024 budget does not fund it. 

Instead, Mayor Harrell has vowed to crack down on people who sell and use drugs, in a highly publicized effort to target “hot spots” such as the intersection of 12th and Jackson in Little Saigon. Anyone walking through the area today can see that this short-term strategy was ineffective at reducing public drug use and sales in the area.

Howe said that the only effective way to reduce visible drug use on the street isn’t more policing, but sanctioned consumption sites. “It’s a no-brainer. … If you don’t want people to use right in front of you and you don’t want needles all over your parks, then you’ve got to give people a place where they can go.”

In the absence of sanctioned sites, Public Health has been quietly moving forward on other, lower-profile strategies aimed at empowering drug users to consume drugs as safely as possible. 

In addition to social media campaigns to educate young people about the extremely high risks of fentanyl pills (“blues”), Finegood says Public Health is doing more targeted educational outreach to users about safer consumption practices. 

This includes training drug users to recognize the symptoms of overdose, encouraging people not to use alone, and making the overdose reversal medication naloxone widely available. Finegood said Public Health has set up the first mail-order naloxone program in the country, and is working extensively with local pharmacies to offer the drug free, without a doctor’s prescription. “We’ve also set up a couple naloxone and fentanyl tester vending machines,” Finegood said. Continue reading “King County is on Pace for a Record Year of Overdose Deaths”

King County Prosecuting Attorney: PubliCola Picks Leesa Manion

Current King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, an iconoclastic former Republican who has long embraced a rehabilitative approach to public safety unusual among prosecutors, will retire next year after 15 years in office. The options to replace Satterberg include his longtime chief of staff, Leesa Manion, and Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell—another Republican-turned-Democrat who has promised to resurrect many of the punitive policies of previous eras, tossing aside years of prosecutorial reform in favor of outdated 1990s-style approaches to crime and punishment.

PubliCola Picks graphicFerrell, a former senior deputy prosecutor in the office, has tacked well to the right of Manion, embracing endorsements from law-enforcement groups (including the Seattle Police Officers Guild and its controversial leader Mike Solan) and spouting law-and-order talking points about “chronic offenders” and “revolving doors” while reflexively rejecting community-based rehabilitation programs.

If elected, Ferrell has vowed to eviscerate Restorative Community Pathways, a pre-filing diversion program that connects young people facing their first felony charge with community-based diversion programs, by making many offenses ineligible and subjecting all RCP participants to charges. These changes are unlikely to improve community safety or improve the accountability of this somewhat opaque program; instead, they would ensure that fewer kids enroll in RCP, which also provides restitution and counseling for victims.

King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa Manion
King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa Manion

Ferrell has argued that it makes sense to hold some people with behavioral health disorders in jail prior to trial, on the grounds that jail can help “stabilize” them and get them on a path to treatment. In reality, the jail is a chaotic, poorly staffed institution where inmates have reported difficulty meeting with attorneys or getting basic medical care—hardly a therapeutic environment for people with complex conditions that require compassion, not confinement. While PubliCola supports improving access to both physical and behavioral health care for incarcerated people, Ferrell isn’t proposing those kind of systemic solutions; instead, he’s embracing a Band-Aid approach to deep-rooted problems that can’t be addressed by a quick stint in jail-based treatment.

Although the prosecuting attorney’s office does not direct county or city policy, the criminal justice system is overloaded with people experiencing poverty and homelessness, and poor people often end up stuck in jail because they can’t afford bail or electronic home monitoring. As mayor, Ferrell has embraced what he called a “tough-love” approach to homelessness, accusing homeless people of choosing a “lack-of-accountability lifestyle” and supporting Federal Way’s ban on encampments in public spaces. People experiencing homelessness need housing and services, not the “tough love” of incarceration; we need a county prosecutor who sees the county’s most vulnerable residents, even those who commit crimes, as more than merely criminals.

Manion is hardly a progressive icon. Her moderate platform consists largely of promises to continue reform initiatives Satterberg started and to take a similarly “compassionate” approach to defendants whose offenses are tied up in poverty, racism, and lack of access to health care. Her belief that the system fundamentally works has caused her to justify obviously poor decisions. Earlier this year, for example, the prosecutor’s office charged a homeless man in a year-and-a-half-old theft case despite the fact that he had enrolled in LEAD and had not reoffended; Manion said he was a good candidate for drug court, which mandates sobriety, despite the fact that he had been unable to comply with similar programs at least 22 times in the past.

Still, on policy alone, Manion is a better pick than Ferrell, who we fear would dismantle programs and policies Satterberg established, undoing decades of slow but steady reform. For that reason, and because she would support alternative approaches that improve public safety by addressing the root causes of some criminal behavior, PubliCola picks Leesa Manion.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

Secretary of State: PubliCola Picks Steve Hobbs

 

For secretary of state, PubliCola picks incumbent Steve Hobbs, although his opponent, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, is also highly qualified for this position.

PubliCola Picks graphicJulie Anderson, the nonpartisan candidate for this technically partisan job, is versed in election law, knowledgeable about both the well-known and obscure aspects of the secretary of state’s office, and will do a capable job if elected. As Pierce County auditor since 2009, Anderson has ample experience overseeing elections, maintaining and ensuring access to public records, and implementing complex IT upgrades—boring-sounding stuff that’s critical to any functioning 21st century democracy. She wants to modernize the office, which still has one foot in the 20th century; for example, she proposes creating alternatives to handwritten signatures for voter validation and preserving complex digital documents in their original form, so that an interactive map, for example, doesn’t show up in the state archives as a static image.

Hobbs, a longtime state legislator appointed secretary of state by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2021, has also proven his qualifications for the position, establishing a new division to combat election disinformation and taking down several cybersecurity threats in real time. To address racial disparities in ballot rejections (and to ensure more ballots are counted), Hobbs has directed his office to develop a system that will send text messages to voters whose signatures have been rejected, giving them more time to contact their local elections office and make sure their vote counts.

In our interview, Hobbs also emphasized the need to expand access to voting information and ballots in languages other than English; currently, a county only has to provide voting materials in other languages if more than 5 percent of its population “are members of a single language minority group, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well,” according to federal voting rights law. The longtime ex-legislator said he would lobby lawmakers to fund additional voting materials for minority language groups and hire trusted community messengers to distribute voting information, a tactic that has worked in other arenas, including fighting misinformation about COVID vaccines.

Steve Hobbs Voter Guide image

Both Anderson and Hobbs are strong candidates. So why are we endorsing Hobbs over Anderson? It goes back to that seemingly simple label: “Nonpartisan.” In an ideal world, the job of overseeing elections would not only be nonpartisan, it probably wouldn’t even be elected—it’s pretty weird, when you think about it, that we fickle, partisan voters get to decide who holds a fundamentally administrative position. But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a hyperpartisan, fragile democracy in which one party believes in free and fair elections and the other believes COVID was a hoax and that Donald Trump won the 2020 election despite no evidence of fraud. In this context, in this election year, declaring yourself “nonpartisan” is a denial of the real forces that threaten our democracy—not just against cyber warfare and election disinformation, but the future of free and fair elections. For this reason, PubliCola picks Democrat Steve Hobbs for secretary of state.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

Approval Voting/Ranked Choice Voting (Propositions 1A and 1B): PubliCola picks “No” and Proposition 1B

The ballot measure to decide whether Seattle should change its voting system is worded, confusingly, as a two-part question. The first question is yes-or-no: Should the city adopt either of two potential new voting systems for primary elections, ranked-choice or approval voting? The second is multiple choice: Regardless of how you voted on the first question, which of the two systems would you prefer? We’re endorsing a “No” vote on the first question and a vote for ranked-choice voting on the second.

PubliCola Picks graphicProponents of approval voting and ranked-choice voting have spent weeks engaged in highly technical debates about which alternative voting system gives people the maximum say in who ends up on the general-election ballot. A ranked-choice primary would offer voters the the chance to rank as many candidates as they want in order of preference, with the final winners determined by knocking out the lowest-ranking candidate in successive “rounds,” redistributing votes to people’s second, third, and fourth choices until only two candidates remain. Approval voting allows people to vote for as few or as many candidates as they want, with the two candidates who receive the most votes overall moving forward to the general election.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting say their system gives voters more of a voice in the process because even if their top-ranked candidate doesn’t make it through, their votes for the candidates they rank lower will still “count” toward the final outcome. Supporters of approval voting say their system better represents people’s preferences, because they can vote for as many candidates as they want, including candidates they would not have picked in a traditional, one-vote system. Both say their system would be simple to implement—ranked-choice voting because it’s already being used in jurisdictions across the country, and approval voting because it wouldn’t require a new type of ballot, only new ballot instructions telling voters they can pick as many candidates as they want. Ranked choice voting advocates say their plan is more democratic, because it empowers people to express nuanced preferences, and approval voting advocates say their plan eliminates candidates on the political fringes to elect the candidate who appeals to the maximum number of voters.

But let’s pull back a bit and ask: What problem are these voting systems trying to solve? If the answer is “too few people are running for city council,” the two most recent city elections would like to have a word; the last five races for open seats drew a minimum of seven candidates and as many as 15. Moreover, many of those who made it past the primary (in 2019: Tammy Morales in District 2 and Shaun Scott in District 4, and in 2021, Lorena González for mayor and Nikkita Oliver for Position 8) were progressive candidates of color.

Both campaigns claim adopting their system will reduce the influence of money in local elections by lifting the pressure to vote for the best-financed candidate. But Seattle’s money problem is that independent groups can spend unlimited amounts supporting candidates and ballot measures, something no voting system can directly address.

If the answer is “too few people are voting in local races,” it’s hard to see how complicating the ballot—requiring voters to educate themselves thoroughly on a dozen or more candidates in order to rank them or decide how many of them to vote for—will achieve that goal. The more work involved in voting, whether it’s ranking candidates on a scale of one through 10 or going to an in-person voting booth—the fewer people will vote.

Both campaigns claim their new voting systems will ensure that “better” candidates will win—or at least candidates that are more representative of the electorate’s true preferences. But that’s hardly a guarantee. The candidates who make it through local primary elections are determined by a host of messy factors, including who decides to run, what issues are top of mind for voters, and which candidates have financial support from outside interest groups, which enjoy outsized power in Seattle’s local elections. Both campaigns claim adopting their system will reduce the influence of money in local elections by lifting the pressure to vote for the best-financed candidate. But Seattle’s money problem is that independent groups can spend unlimited amounts supporting candidates and ballot measures, something no voting system can directly address. Notably, both campaigns are funded primarily by six-figure donations from organizations outside Seattle.

Based on their appeals to voters, the real argument for both of these voting systems is that people’s votes will count more when they’re run through an algorithm that tabulates it differently, even though the outcome will always be that the two most popular candidates move forward. This boils down, for either system, to a contention that allowing voters to choose more candidates makes voting more “fair.” (Neither RCV nor Approval Voting supporters have claimed their system would have altered the outcome of recent council primary elections, in which two candidates generally emerge from a field of a dozen or more.) The strongest case for either system, then, is that they make voters feel heard. Unfortunately, the problems with Seattle’s electoral system, most notably the immense influx of outside money from unaccountable independent expenditure campaigns, can’t be fixed by making people feel included. Algorithms can’t fix democracy—or turn 20-point defeats into victories.

This two-part ballot measure also allows voters to choose an alternative voting system, regardless of whether they support our current top-two primary. On this question, we urge readers to vote for Proposition 1B, ranked-choice voting. If we are going to get a new voting system for primary elections, we would prefer that system be ranked-choice voting, both because ranked-choice systems have been tested in many jurisdictions and because we’re open to the idea that, in the future, ranked-choice voting could give a worthy candidate a needed boost in a close three-way race.

Supporters of approval voting say it would lead to more broadly popular, or centrist, elected officials. Historically, Seattle has needed no help electing mushy moderates (PubliCola’s editorial board is old enough to remember the days of Margaret Pageler, Jim Compton, and Jean Godden), so we don’t need a voting system that pushes candidates further to the middle.

Overall, though, we’d prefer to stick with our current top-two system, and advocate for reforms that will actually help even the electoral playing field by reducing the influence of dark money (and the incendiary advertising it pays for) in our local elections.

PubliCola picks “No” On City of Seattle Propositions 1A and 1B Part 1, and IB on Part 2.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

For Seattle Municipal Court Position 3, PubliCola Picks: No Endorsement

Incumbent Seattle Municipal Court Presiding Judge Adam Eisenberg has done important work to create alternatives to incarceration for people who commit certain serious misdemeanor crimes. But his commitment to reforming the judicial system comes with some alarming asterisks.

PubliCola Picks graphicIn 2018, Eisenberg led the effort to established an individualized intervention program for perpetrators of domestic violence who were willing to admit they were at fault and wanted help. This court-based intervention, known as the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) represents a commendable improvement over programs that focused on punishment at the expense of rehabilitation, but it’s still unclear whether DVIP participants (and their partners) benefit from the intervention long-term. Eisenberg wants to expand DVIP to be more inclusive, and wants to create new programs that teach empathy and communication skills to people who commit low-level domestic-violence crimes.

But Eisenberg also supports programs that reinforce a punitive status quo. In addition to signing on to City Attorney Ann Davison’s effort to exclude a list of about 120 “high utilizers” from community court, he also told PubliCola he supports requiring some defendants to undergo drug and alcohol treatment inside the county jail, rather than in community-based programs, because people in jail can’t just walk away from treatment. This approach, supported by controversial former judge Ed McKenna (who is backing Eisenberg), is not evidence-based and could infringe on civil liberties, particularly for people being held in jail while awaiting trial.

Eisenberg’s opponent, Pooja Vaddadi, says she felt compelled to run against the judge after working inside the municipal court system for 10 months as an attorney for the King County Department of Public Defense, where she said she witnessed a “toxic and biased judiciary acting against the interest of public safety and undermining the institution of the court.”

While Vaddadi makes a compelling case against many of the court’s current practices, including some of Eisenberg’s decisions involving domestic violence protection orders, she has not made a strong argument that she’s qualified (or has specific policy solutions) to reform the system from within. We agree with most of Vaddadi’s positions, from the need for alternatives to expensive home monitoring to the need to replace bail with a more equitable accountability system. But we aren’t convinced that her work as a public defender has prepared her for a position that involves impartially administering justice in hundreds of cases a year. PubliCola makes no endorsement in this race.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.