Race for King County prosecutor is competitive
With absentee ballots already arriving in King County mailboxes, voters will choose candidates in a race that hasn't been competitive for...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Keith Scully, 34Residence: Green Lake
Occupation: Legal director, Futurewise
Background: Former King County deputy prosecuting attorney, civil attorney, United Nations associate legal officer
Top three endorsements: King County Labor Council, King County Democrats, The Stranger
Campaign Web site: www.keithscully.com
Bill Sherman, 39Residence: Ravenna.
Occupation: King County deputy prosecuting attorney
Background: Special assistant, Interior Department; civil attorney; former legislative candidate
Top three endorsements: King County Labor Council, King County Democrats, Washington Conservation Voters
Campaign Web site: www.billsherman.org
With absentee ballots already arriving in King County mailboxes, voters will choose candidates in a race that hasn't been competitive for decades.
With the death of longtime King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng in May, three attorneys have mounted campaigns to be the county's next top lawyer.
The election marks a rare opportunity for the Democrats: Since 1948, there have been only three prosecutors, all Republicans. Maleng held the job for 28 years.
Republican Dan Satterberg, 47, Maleng's former chief of staff and interim King County prosecutor, is running unopposed to be his party's choice in the Aug. 21 primary.
Two Democrats are vying for the chance to be on the November ballot: Keith Scully, 34, and Bill Sherman, 39.
Attracting attention to the primary contest hasn't been easy.
The candidates had only two months from the filing deadline to the election, and most voters are not accustomed to a spirited race for prosecutor. On Thursday, a candidates forum in Medina was canceled due to lack of interest.
Still, Scully and Sherman say they present a stark choice for Democratic voters, though they offer similar perspectives on the death penalty, crime trends and office priorities.
The King County Prosecutor's Office is one of the city's largest law firms, handling thousands of case annually. With an annual budget of $56 million, the office comprises several divisions, including domestic violence, juvenile court, land use and natural resources.
In 2005, it handled 129 homicides, 1,439 possession-of-heroin charges, and 10 Medicaid-fraud cases, among thousands of others.
Scully, a Santa Cruz, Calif., native who once worked as a paramedic, served in the Prosecutor's Office from 1999 to 2005, handling misdemeanor and felony crimes and developing a mortgage-fraud prosecution program.
While he credits Maleng for his advocacy of rehabilitation instead of jail time for many drug crimes, Scully said the county should go even farther.
Drug Court, a program created by the Prosecutor's Office and Superior Court in 1994 to offer defendants court-monitored drug treatment instead of incarceration, should be expanded to include all drug offenders, he said.
But that strategy may come with problems. In 2000, The Seattle Times reviewed 451 drug cases filed in a single month and discovered most drug users, given the choice between treatment and jail, choose jail rather than submitting to intensive counseling and weekly urinalysis.
Scully said that wouldn't discourage him.
"You send them through over and over again, with each new conviction. There's no success with incarceration. It's an expensive and useless proposition," he said.
Although Maleng was criticized for seeking life in prison instead of lethal injection for serial killer Gary Ridgway in exchange for information about his victims, Scully said Maleng made the right call.
But prosecutors should not negotiate with capital punishment, he said.
"You cannot use it as a bargaining chip," Scully said, adding that law enforcement could offer suspects perks such as better prison conditions.
Asked whether he would support a potential move in the Legislature to abolish the death penalty, Scully replied: "Probably."
In his failed run to represent the 43rd Legislative District in the statehouse last year, Sherman said he would support a statewide moratorium on the death penalty to examine its fairness.
Sherman, too, supported Maleng's decision in the Ridgway case. He would not offer an opinion about Maleng's decision in January 2006 to seek the death penalty against Conner Schierman, accused of killing a Kirkland family of four.
"I'm going to make those decisions on a case-by-case basis," Sherman said.
Currently serving in the Domestic Violence Unit at the Prosecutor's Office, Sherman said he would undertake a top-to-bottom review of the office to determine if it's handling cases efficiently.
He credited Maleng for inspiring a motivated corps of attorneys who perform their work without political influence. But he said he disagreed with Maleng's decision not to charge King County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Ring, who retired rather than face charges on allegations of stalking his ex-wife, stealing money from an elderly man and helping escort services avoid police investigations.
The county agreed to pay Ring's legal fees, refund the money he'd put up for bail, and let him use his accrued paid sick days until his retirement in November 2005. He was then awarded his full retirement benefits. In exchange, Ring agreed to retire and to not pursue a $2.5 million claim against the county for civil-rights violations.
"That sent a bad message to the public and to the vast majority of deputy sheriffs and police officers who are doing everything right," Sherman said.
Raised in Mentor, Ohio, Sherman worked as a special assistant in the Interior Department under President Clinton. He said he would put greater emphasis on pursuing environmental crimes and create a task force with the state Department of Ecology and local agencies.
Scully said his experience prosecuting war crimes in The Hague gives him an edge over his Democratic competitor. For about a year, he researched and argued a case against six Serbians accused of mass killings in Kosovo. The trial is ongoing.
Scully is now the legal director of Futurewise, a local conservation group.
For his part, Sherman said his background trumps his opponent's. He also notes that he is currently serving as a prosecutor, which gives him a unique perspective.
The Municipal League of King County ranks Sherman as "outstanding" and Scully as "very good." Satterberg, the Republican, was rated "outstanding."
According to the Public Disclosure Commission, Sherman has raised about $33,000, compared with Scully's $21,160.
Satterberg, with no primary opponent, has raised about $107,000.
Sherman locked up key endorsements, such as former Gov. Gary Locke, Mayor Greg Nickels and Washington Conservation Voters.
Several groups, such as the King County Labor Council and King County Democrats, have endorsed both Democratic candidates.
If the general public has had trouble focusing on the prosecutor's race, not so with the party faithful, said Susan Sheary, chairwoman of the King County Democrats.
"There's nothing that has more interest than these two gentlemen," she said. "For most of us, we've never had an opportunity like this."
Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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