EVERETT — The deputy prosecutor, the defense attorney and the probation counselor were all on board.
The plea agreement in the juvenile division of Snohomish County Superior Court just needed a judge’s signature earlier this month.
That didn’t happen.
On Tuesday, Judge George Bowden stepped aside at the request of prosecutors.
In doing so, he opted to let another judge decide whether the entire case, involving child molestation allegations now half-a-decade old, should be thrown out.
The move comes after Bowden early this month raised questions about the case, which involves a now 17-year-old girl from Lake Stevens. She admitted sexually touching a 6-year-old girl while babysitting her in 2012, court papers show.
It also comes after the teen’s defense attorney filed a motion to dismiss, alleging justice was impossible in the case because the deputy prosecutor and a probation counselor assigned to the case began dating in November and have what is described in court papers as “a personal, romantic relationship.”
Cassandra Lopez De Arriaga, an Everett-based attorney who represents the juvenile defendant, filed court papers acknowledging that the probation counselor on Jan. 5 told her that she was dating the deputy prosecutor who previously had handled the case. That happened the same day the teen had been scheduled to enter her guilty plea.
The notice was too little, too late, the lawyer argued in her pleading.
“It is clear that this case has been subject to flagrant prosecutorial mismanagement and misconduct,” Lopez De Arriaga wrote. “Dismissal is the only appropriate remedy.”
Not so fast, the prosecutor’s office countered. The information about the relationship had no bearing on the substance of the allegations or evidence in the case and it is not information that could assist in crafting a defense, they contend.
Moreover, the probation counselor’s sole role in the case was to make a recommendation about what should happen to the teen after pleading guilty, prosecutors said in court papers.
“That recommendation in this case was consistent with what the defense and (prosecutors) had worked out,” they wrote, adding that the judge wasn’t bound by any recommendation.
Tuesday’s hearing was watched closely by Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe.
His office urged Bowden to recuse himself. Among other things, they noted in court papers that the judge had earlier openly criticized prosecutors for pursuing charges against the girl. He said they failed to exercise sufficient compassion.
“I wouldn’t take a plea in this case because it offends my (conscience) regardless if everyone was on the same page about the plea,” the judge is quoted as having said in court. He noted that the teen is now taking college-level nursing classes and eventually hopes to become a doctor.
The emphasis in the juvenile courts is on rehabilitation.
Roe said the motion to ask Bowden to step aside was a separate issue from responding to the defense’s motion for dismissal.
“Judge Bowden is a fine judge and has been on the bench for a long time,” he said.
The deputy prosecutor’s relationship with the probation counselor was brought to Roe’s attention by a co-worker. He reassigned the prosecutor, removing him from juvenile court cases.
The decision was out of “an abundance of caution” to remove any possibility of an appearance of a conflict of interest, Roe said.
Roe said he does not believe the motion to dismiss has merit in the case against the 17-year-old or in any other cases where the deputy prosecutor and probation officer were both involved.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.