By The Herald Editorial Board
The decision announced nearly a year ago by current Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell that he would not run for election to a second term, noted that he found the job “intense, impactful and immensely rewarding”; just not “enjoyable.”
Cornell’s term was marked, of course, by more than two years of covid-19 pandemic roadblocks to trials and the handling of cases, disagreements with the county sheriff, and the distraction of defending against four lawsuits that included allegations that the prosecutor’s office, under his predecessor, Mark Roe, had been a hostile workplace.
Even as work continues to resolve past issues, new challenges have emerged for the two candidates seeking to succeed Cornell and carry on the management of what is — with about 200 employees, including more than 100 deputy prosecuting attorneys — the county’s largest law firm.
The next county prosecutor faces budgetary challenges inside the office and in the larger criminal justice system to administer a backlog of cases created by the pandemic, while adjusting to increases in crime and recent legislation and judicial decisions regarding law enforcement practices, prosecution and the courts.
Two have accepted that challenge: Jason Cummings, the chief civil deputy in the prosecutor’s office, and Brett Rogers, an attorney with an extensive background in law enforcement, much of that with the Seattle Police Department.
Cummings, running as a Democrat, was raised in the county and lives in Edmonds. Rogers, running as a Republican, is a county resident since 2005 and lives in Lake Stevens. Rogers ran unsuccessfully for the Lake Stevens school board in 2021 and for state attorney general in 2020. This is Cummings’ first run for public office.
Following a joint interview last month with both candidates, The Herald Editorial Board finds Cummings best prepared to lead the office and meet current and future challenges.
Rogers makes a fair point that past experience in a prosecuting attorney’s office should not be seen as a prerequisite for the job; the position is largely administrative, comparable to that of CEO of a company. And, Rogers said, he has that experience, most recently as supervisor of parking enforcement staff in Seattle. As well, Rogers could bring helpful perspective from his law enforcement career, which includes time in patrol, detective work, domestic violence, field training supervision and corrections.
For Cummings, however, his entire career, including 24 years with Snohomish County, has been as a deputy prosecuting attorney, 14 of those years as the office’s chief civil deputy. Cummings’ administrative responsibilities, including the office’s $30 million budget and service on the leadership team for the last three elected prosecutors, fully meet the CEO job requirement.
Regarding the challenges the office faces:
Rogers believes the attitudes and decisions of some lawmakers and public officials have made it more difficult to address an increase in crime.
“Far too many of our elected officials, for whatever reason, whether they’re afraid of activists, they think they’re being compassionate or are doing the right thing, have let things slide and we’ve found ourselves where we’re at with crime and disorder,” he said.
“We just need people who are willing to change policy and change course, and who are willing to follow through on that.”
Cummings sees a need to uphold the basics of prosecution: facts and the law.
“We have to take politics out of the office,” he said. “We have to make sure we are making decisions that are based on the facts and the law. Because anytime the prosecuting attorney is making decisions based on politics we lose credibility with citizens and clients.”
Rogers raises concerns that in too many instances the office has not sought higher bail, even when there’s capacity at the county jail, in order to protect public safety.
Cummings, however, disputes the notion that the prosecutor’s office is soft on crime, has a catch-and-release policy and does not pursue charges or has released defendants too often on low bail or personal recognizance.
Defendants who pose a danger to the public or who are a flight risk still face bail of a warranted amount, Cummings said, with the judge making the final decision, but the law is clear about the presumption of innocence prior to trial.
Cummings acknowledges an increase in violent crimes and crimes involving firearms, and he intends to continue the charging team’s focus on repeat offenders, unlawful possession of firearms and residential burglaries.
In the budget that he’s prepared, the office is seeking an additional deputy prosecutor to pursue firearms cases to ensure that those cases are taken seriously. Whether through the budget, grants or through reallocation of resources, Cummings also seeks the addition of two deputy prosecutors to focus on complex cases involving homicides and violence; and a training deputy prosecuting attorney who would work with less-experienced deputies in the office but also would be available to provide guidance to law enforcement officers as they prepare reports for charging decisions, bail hearings and trials.
Cummings said the availability of a training deputy might have avoided a situation from earlier this year when the office requested lower bail than would have been warranted for a juvenile defendant in a firearms case, because the initial information from the police report didn’t clarify that shots had been fired by the defendant, rather than involving only possession of a handgun.
Cummings also promised continuation of the office’s TAP (therapeutic alternatives to prosecution) and diversion program, which he said has excelled at cost-effectively lowering recidivism.
“We’re bringing people into the system who are taking responsibility and working toward paying restitution and getting their feet back underneath them through training, through counseling and other opportunities,” he said.
Regardless of who wins election, a suggestion by Rogers deserves consideration by the next prosecutor. The prosecutor’s office has not made effective use of social media, he notes. It has no Twitter account and its Facebook page is unused.
That’s an untapped resource to garner public support and provide information and transparency, Rogers said.
“It’s important to let the public know what’s going on and what challenges (the office) is facing so it can go to the county council about its needs or to the governor to increase the number of judges to get that support to push things through,” he said.
That’s a fair example of the fresh approach that Rogers could offer, but Cummings extensive background with the office, his past leadership within it and an understanding of how best to use the resources available makes the closing argument for Cummings as the county’s next prosecuting attorney.