Two vie to serve as Snohomish County prosecutor

Wednesday’s selection of a new county prosecutor could be one of the most important elections in Snohomish County this year, and voters don’t get to cast a single ballot.

Instead, it’s up to the Snohomish County Council to decide who takes over as the county’s top lawyer — at least until next year.

The decision is being made by the council now because of the early departure of former prosecutor Janice Ellis. Ellis resigned to take a job with the Tulalip Tribes. Her term would have ended in December 2010.

Because Ellis is a Democrat, the county’s Democrats were asked to submit three possible replacements to the County Council.

Democratic precinct committee officers last month selected two men who were already gearing up to run in November: Jim Kenny and Mark Roe.

Kenny led with 90 votes to Roe’s 65 in a vote of precinct officers. Former deputy prosecutor Millie Judge agreed to be the third applicant but isn’t actively seeking the appointment and is endorsing Roe for the job.

The scramble to get the appointment quickly kicked off both men’s campaigns. The politics have been thick as supporters for both candidates have disagreed on the significance of the 25 votes that so far has separated the pair.

Jim Kenny

Kenny, 40, graduated from the University of Washington Law School. He worked for three years for the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office in Vancouver, Wash. He primarily handled misdemeanor cases in District Court but also prosecuted some felony juvenile cases.

Kenny left to run a family law practice in Everett. Nine months later, he took a job with the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.

For a decade he has been a deputy city prosecutor in the criminal division, handling misdemeanor cases in municipal court. For the last two years he has been a community prosecutor, working out of the Seattle Police Department’s downtown precinct. He is the legal adviser to the precinct commander.

Kenny said he provides legal advice to police and other Seattle city departments and works with businesses on issues such as open-air drug markets, night clubs, transients and protests.

Community prosecution focuses on regulations and code enforcement to tackle chronic problems, Kenny said.

“It’s a way to respond to the community and address their needs,” he said.

Kenny also is a fire commissioner with Snohomish County Fire District 1, which serves about 120,000 people in south Snohomish County. He is chairman of the five-person board that oversees the fire district and its 175 employees.

Kenny also was elected to the county’s 2006 charter review commission.

Kenny said his experience as a leader of a public safety agency, and what he called proven “electability,” make him more qualified than his opponent. He understands what it means to be responsible and responsive to voters, Kenny said.

As a fire commissioner for six years, he has helped oversee an annual budget of more than $30 million, Kenny said. He was the lead negotiator for the fire service contracts with the cities of Mountlake Terrace and Brier. He also led negotiations for a new contract with the city of Edmonds, Kenny said.

Working with the fire service has many similarities to working with law enforcement, he said.

“It’s about a transparency of information. Information has to go both ways. You need to be available to provide training for police departments, and the prosecutor has to have a working relationship with police officers,” Kenny said.

He also knows how to work with other elected officials, a skill that is key for the county prosecutor, Kenny said.

“You have to be diplomatic and people have to have confidence in you,” he said.

Kenny said the county prosecutor isn’t a trial attorney. The position calls for someone with tested administrative skills to handle personnel and budgetary issues, he said. The county prosecutor also must have community relations skills to work with the public, Kenny said.

Kenny said as the prosecutor, he will take a lead role in the law and justice community. He will look at more alternatives to jailing nonviolent offenders. An example would be instituting a mental health court to provide services to mentally ill offenders instead of jail time, Kenny said.

Kenny said he doesn’t know how the county would fund such a court, but the prosecutor’s office should position itself to look at alternatives and always strive to be innovative.

“I don’t think we should stop at drug court,” he said.

Kenny also is promising to take more cases to trial.

He said he is concerned that the drop in felony jury trials this year compared to previous years indicates that prosecutors are making more plea deals with offenders. Kenny said there is no indication that the decrease is part of plan to find alternatives to jailing offenders.

Data provided by the prosecutor’s office show that there were 116 felony jury trials in 2008. The office estimates that there will be 81 by the end of this year. The largest decrease comes from the nonviolent crime unit, primarily responsible for prosecuting property crimes. Prosecutors say some of the decrease may be a result of recent appellate court rulings that favored defendants.

“Are they delivering justice, or are they just capitulating in these cases?” Kenny asked. “We have to stem that tide and turn it around.”

Some of Kenny’s endorsements include Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick, County Councilman Mike Cooper, state Rep. Hans Dunshee, the firefighters unions in District 1 and 7 and Democrats in Legislative Districts 10, 32 and 44.

Mark Roe

Roe, 50, received his law degree from the University of Puget Sound. A senior deputy prosecutor, Roe has been with the office since 1987. Until last month, Roe oversaw the prosecution of sexual assaults and crimes against children at Dawson Place, the county’s child advocacy center.

Prior to that assignment, Roe was the chief criminal deputy prosecutor and tasked with handling the day-to-day operations of the office. He made personnel decisions and led budget presentations in front of the County Council and executive for the law and justice departments. Roe said he also helped find innovative ways to fix problems for police and the state crime lab.

He helped develop a Web site that police officers can use to learn when they are scheduled for court hearings, eliminating the need for them to try to reach prosecutors.

Roe said he also helped reduce a backlog of drug cases pending testing at the state crime lab. Prosecutors used to file drug possession charges only after they received test results from the lab. Roe said he worked with police, the crime lab and the public defender’s office to reach agreement that results of field tests conducted by arresting officers could be used to charge the crime. Samples are submitted for crime lab tests only if a case goes to trial.

“It’s a matter of looking at things and asking ‘Why?’ ” Roe said.

Roe said he plans to find other ways to streamline processes in the office to free up resources for other more important tasks, such as keeping more crime victims apprised of the status of their cases.

Roe said he stepped down in 2006 from the position of second in-command at the prosecutor’s office to handle the death penalty case against the man accused of raping and killing 7-year-old Roxanne Doll. He also wanted to help launch Dawson Place.

“I believed my best and highest use was making sure I was the best I could be on that case and we could be the best we could be for the children of sexual and physical abuse in Snohomish County,” Roe said.

Roe said his career as a deputy prosecutor has prepared him to lead the office. He has tried homicide cases and explained his decisions to victims’ families, Roe said. He has been involved in making the tough choices in death penalty cases. He has made decisions about officer misconduct and police-involved shootings.

He said he knows the people in the law and justice community.

“What’s more important, they know me. We have a relationship of trust and respect that we started building over 20 years ago,” Roe said.

“You have to be someone the public, victims, the community, law enforcement and Superior Court judges know they can pick up the phone and talk to you openly and honestly about issues you understand,” Roe said. “I don’t think those are qualifications that anyone has more of than I do.”

Roe said he wants to help the next generation of prosecutors, police officers and support staff succeed in providing public safety to the community.

“I don’t just have a desire to be the next prosecutor,” Roe said. “I have the responsibility to be the next prosecutor in Snohomish County.”

Roe is being endorsed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, former Prosecutors Janice Ellis and Seth Dawson, County Councilmen Brian Sullivan and John Koster, the Snohomish County Deputy Sheriffs Association and the Snohomish County Sheriff and Police Chief Association.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463;

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