After five years, the U.S. attorney for Western Washington, Jenny Durkan, has left her fingerprints, bird-dogging cyber criminals and shaking down (as U.S. attorneys are wont to do) white-collar hoods eye-deep in bank fraud. It’s been Eliot Ness meets the Internet, with multiple “cyber prosecutions,” including an ongoing case against Roman Seleznev, a Russian national accused of large-scale illegal hacking and credit card fraud. During Durkan’s term, Abdul Latif and Walli Mujahidh were convicted of plotting a terrorist attack against a local military base — a horror averted. Durkan’s office also partnered with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to investigate the Seattle Police Department’s use-of-force policies, which spurred system-wide reform and a consent decree by the federal court.
“We have made our nation and communities safer, while also making our civil rights stronger,” Durkan said.
On Wednesday, Durkan announced plans to resign effective at the end of September. She’ll be a tough prosecutorial act to follow. Conventional wisdom has an interim successor as the de facto U.S. attorney for the remainder of President Obama’s administration. This default setting — including a continued focus building on Durkan’s record — works fine. But appointing a permanent successor is more consistent with the public interest.
The job itself can be a beast. In 1980, then-U.S. Attorney John Merkel successfully prosecuted state House of Representatives’ co-Speaker John Bagnariol and Senate Majority Leader Gordon Walgren for federal racketeering in the so-called Gamscam scandal. It was a just prosecution against two corrupt politicians who happened to be Democrats. But Bagnariol and Walgren had influential pals, and Merkel, also a Democrat, was blackballed in legal and party circles after he stepped down.
Who has the mettle? Candidates require political leverage with the state’s U.S. senators to advance their nomination. For once, however, it would be sweet to consider public servants who don’t max out at Medina fundraisers. Consider former Snohomish County Prosecutor and current Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis. Ellis’ breadth of experience as a prosecutor and a judge, as well as her passion for zeroing out sex traffickers, makes her especially compelling. Other candidates to put on the short list include Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe, former county prosecutor and child advocate Seth Dawson, and deputy prosecuting attorney and foster youth advocate Adam Cornell.
Washington deserves the best — and not just the best connected — U.S. attorney.