Internal review sheds light on role of AG in early release of prisoners

  • By Jerry Cornfield
  • Thursday, April 7, 2016 5:10pm
  • Local News

The first time the Attorney General’s Office advised the Department of Corrections on calculating prisoner sentences in line with a 2002 Supreme Court decision, they got it right.

They told them they’d likely need to do them by hand until computers got reprogrammed.

The next time it came up, on Dec. 7, 2012, they got it wrong, according to an internal review released Thursday by Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

An assistant attorney general told corrections officials in an email that day that they didn’t need to manually recalculate every prisoner’s sentence since a computer update was anticipated soon.

That flawed legal advice contributed to what turned out to be a three-year delay in the Department of Corrections fixing the problem while up to 3,200 prisoners got out early by mistake, the review concluded.

“This legal advice failed the people of Washington and our client, DOC,” Ferguson wrote in a letter accompanying the 48-page report. “By advising the client that it was “reasonable” to not immediately correct this violation of the law, the advice jeopardized public safety and potentially increased liability for the state.”

Ronda Larson, the assistant attorney general who provided the legal advice, resigned in February.

Neither the report nor the letter indicates if Ferguson disciplined any employees based on the findings.

Ferguson ordered the review in December when the magnitude of the mistake – and the lengthy delay in correcting it – became public.

Nineteen current and former employees of the attorney general’s office and corrections department were interviewed, more than 20,000 emails reviewed, and 13 years of records and legal advice analyzed.

It places nearly all the responsibility on Larson for delivering what it deemed “deeply flawed” advice.

While Larson did copy her supervisor, Senior Counsel Paul Weisser, on the Dec. 7 email, he did not recall seeing it nor did she follow procedures by discussing the advice directly with him, the report concluded.

“Our investigation found that the legal advice provided in 2012 was isolated,” Ferguson wrote in the letter. “No one in senior agency leadership, including then Attorney General Rob McKenna, was aware of the problem or the provision of the advice. In fact, despite clear expectations that all legal issues involving significant implications for the state should be elevated to the division chief, the AAG did not identify the sentencing calculation error as an issue that needed to be raised.”

One employee, senior counsel Dan Judge, told those conducting the review that on Dec. 7, 2012, he spoke separately with Kathy Gastreich, risk management director for the DOC, and Senior Assistant Attorney General Tim Lang on the potential liability of early releases due to miscalculated sentences. But neither Lang nor Gastreich recalled such conversations and those conducting could find no evidence to corroborate Judge’s recollections.

As a result of the review, Ferguson said changes are being made. Attorneys will receive more training and the department is creating a best practices guide for providing advice to clients.

Also, the office is requiring any advice from an assistant attorney general to the Department of Corrections on prisoner release dates or other significant issues be reviewed and approved by a supervisor. This was a recommendation from the investigation into the errors conducted on behalf of the governor’s office.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

A photo of "Tazz," an Argentine white Tegu still missing near Granite Falls. (Provided photo)
Tazz the missing tegu reunited with owner in Granite Falls

The 4-foot lizard went missing Friday evening. Searchers located him in a barn, 1 mile away from his home.

A closing sign hangs above the entrance of the Big Lots at Evergreen and Madison on Monday, July 22, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Big Lots announces it will shutter Everett and Lynnwood stores

The Marysville store will remain open for now. The retailer reported declining sales in the first quarter of the year.

President Joe Biden speaks at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, in Greensboro, N.C., on April 14, 2022. Biden plans to nominate Michael Barr  to be the Federal Reserve's vice chairman of supervision. The selection of Barr comes after Biden's first choice for the Fed post, Sarah Bloom Raskin, withdrew her nomination a month ago (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Washington Democrats voice support for Biden’s decision to drop out of presidential race

Some quickly endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris to replace him on the ballot.

Teenager in stable condition after Everett drive-by shooting Saturday

Major Crime Unit detectives were looking for two suspects believed to have shot the teenager in the 600 block of 124th Street SW.

Miners Complex tops 500 acres in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Nine lightning-caused fires force trail closures and warnings 21 miles east of Darrington. No homes are threatened.

FILE — President Joe Biden arrives for a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, July 3, 2024. Biden abandoned his campaign for a second term under intense pressure from fellow Democrats on Sunday, July 21, upending the race for the White House in a dramatic last-minute bid to find a new candidate who can stop former President Donald Trump from returning to the White House. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Biden drops out of race, endorses vice president Kamala Harris

The president announced the decision on social media Sunday.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.