Abolish lawsuits? Punish crimes? How Seattle City Attorneys’ Rivals Would Exercise Their Authority
No matter what Seattle voters think of tweets from Nicole Thomas-Kennedy espousing the “rabid hatred” for the police, or the embrace of Ann Davison of the Republican Party, one of the two will soon be sworn in as state attorney. city.
The winner of the November 2 general election will support an office of 200 employees and a budget of $ 35 million.
This includes not only the highly controversial Criminal Division – which handles misdemeanor prosecutions for offenses such as DUI, shoplifting and assault – but also the broader Civil Division, which provides legal advice to municipal agencies and defends the laws adopted by the municipal council.
So what would they do with this authority?
Thomas-Kennedy, a former public defender and first-time candidate, is an avowed abolitionist who says she would work to reduce – and possibly eliminate – criminal prosecutions, arguing they are unnecessary and often amount to criminalize poverty.
On the civil law side, Thomas-Kennedy is committed to defending progressive tax laws, prosecuting fossil fuel companies, and working to overturn the state’s ban on affirmative action.
Davison, a lawyer and adjudicator making her third consecutive candidacy, was more vague about her plans but generally advocated a more aggressive stance towards repeat offenders and burgeoning homeless settlements.
She sees the role of the Civil Division in less militant terms, providing impartial legal advice and working to reduce prosecution responsibilities.
The unusual match brought national attention to what is normally a low-key race for an officially non-partisan position.
A Thomas-Kennedy victory would mark a radical change for even one of the country’s most liberal cities, rejecting police and prison reform in favor of outright abolition. And if Davison wins, she would become the first Republican to hold an elected office in Seattle in decades. Either would be the first woman to serve as a city attorney, dating back to 1875.
Much of the attention in the race has been focused on the state of prosecution for offenses by sitting city attorney, Pete Holmes, who was ousted in the August primary after being put pilloried by Davison for being too lenient, and by Thomas-Kennedy for being too harsh.
Political rhetoric aside, annual reports from the city attorney’s office show that Seattle has dramatically reduced misdemeanor prosecutions since Holmes took office in 2010. In his first year, the city filed 13 421 misdemeanor cases – 70% of those transmitted by the police. That fell to 7,305 cases in 2019, representing 56% of those sent by police.
Some of the cuts stem from Holmes’ political decisions, including the early decision to stop bringing charges against people for driving with suspended licenses and the dismissal of all pending marijuana charges (he then led an initiative at the statewide to decriminalize drugs).
Thomas-Kennedy says the city is still chasing too many people. Since her first place in primary school, she has stuck to her abolitionist stance, while stressing that she would not immediately stop all prosecutions.
âWe are not yet at the point of abolition. I don’t know if we will get there in my lifetime, âshe said, stressing the need to first develop alternatives to the police and prisons.
Thomas-Kennedy’s perspective is informed by his four years as a public defender in King County. She has represented clients in 662 cases, according to the county’s public defense department.
In the short term, Thomas-Kennedy has pledged not to prosecute prostitution, claiming that sex work is often âsurvival workâ. She also says the city should not prosecute drug crimes and opposes forced drug treatment, prioritizing on-demand services and treatment for those who are ready.
In response to complaints about widespread shoplifting plaguing businesses downtown and other neighborhoods, Thomas-Kennedy proposed a compensation fund to reimburse victims for merchandise stolen by people who do not can’t afford to pay compensation.
Thomas-Kennedy cites cases of people being prosecuted for stealing a sandwich or stealing items donated from Goodwill stores. A 2019 KUOW investigation found 318 people had been indicted by Seattle prosecutors for stealing from Goodwill the previous year, nearly a third of whom were homeless.
âWe are not going to continue on our way out of poverty,â she said.
Thomas-Kennedy also points to the persistence of racial disparities in the police force despite years of reform efforts. A study published in July found that blacks are five times more likely to be arrested and questioned by Seattle police than whites, and seven times more likely to be subjected to the use of force.
âIt’s not just a bad apple. It’s a culture based on racism and that’s how it still functions today, âsaid Thomas-Kennedy.
Thomas-Kennedy was supported by all Democratic Party organizations in Seattle, as well as city council members Tammy Morales and Teresa Mosqueda, and council chair and mayoral candidate Lorena GonzÃ¡lez.
But the prospect of an abolitionist city attorney has alarmed others in Seattle’s political and business establishment. Two former Democratic governors, Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire, backed Davison, along with former Seattle mayors Greg Nickels, Wes Uhlman and Charles Royer.
Many business owners are also worried that the unrest will worsen if law enforcement and prosecutions decline further. More than 150 people signed a recent letter from the Downtown Seattle Association to local elected officials, citing widespread theft and organized shutdown operations costing retailers millions of dollars in lost goods and security costs. They called for additional police forces as well as new housing and shelter programs.
“The crime downtown is unbearable,” said Marques Warren, owner of Downtown Spirits, a liquor store on 7th Avenue near Denny Park, who signed the letter. “If the crimes were no longer prosecuted and it was free for everyone, I would have to reassess whether I want to have a business in this city.”
Warren said his store had been confronted with aggressive shoplifters, and recently a man who was asked to leave responded by throwing a piece of concrete at an employee and attempted to smash a window, before continuing in the street by committing other assaults and property damage.
Despite years of abusing Seattle leaders over homelessness and crime, Davison is harder to pin down the details of how she would approach these issues if elected as the city attorney.
Her campaign website includes a minimalist platform that includes statements such as âcontinuing progress on bail reform,â which she did not expand on in interviews. She declines to give examples of specific crimes she would prosecute further, repeating that she will examine the office’s tactics and focus on high-impact offenses.
âI’m not someone who is going to be adamant,â Davison said. âI’m definitely going to talk about things in a different way and make sure we see a way forward for the city for the good of all, to have respect and civility. And that means our laws mean something to us.
Davison describes the city attorney’s office as a critical but currently dysfunctional link to public safety in downtown and neighborhoods. She said she would strive to change the “status quo” after 12 years of Holmes leadership and create “a safer, more compassionate city for all of us.”
Seattle’s inability to adequately tackle crime and homelessness “has a cascading effect on the livability of our city,” Davison said, highlighting his conversations with business owners and residents who “really ask. help”.
Thirty retired judges backed Davison in an open letter calling her “clearly the most qualified candidate.” C. Kimi Kondo, a retired Seattle Municipal Court judge who signed the letter, called Thomas-Kennedy a “avowed anarchist who will dismantle the criminal justice system and worsen the city’s problems.”
Davison has minimal criminal prosecution experience, referring only to an internship as a law student, and has handled a handful of civil cases in local courts. She moved to Seattle in 1995 to work at the SuperSonics front office. Ten years later, after graduating in law, she worked for a local law firm and started her own law firm. She has worked as an arbitrator, settling private disputes between companies.
Davison says the city’s attorney job doesn’t involve appearing in court personally, but rather setting high-level priorities and working to prevent lawsuits and minimize the city’s legal responsibilities.
During his 2019 City Council campaign and last year’s run for Lt. Gov. Davison criticized some Seattle government initiatives, such as efforts to tax large corporations and ban evictions during the winter months.
Davison said that as a city lawyer, she would defend laws passed by city council, regardless of her own views. âMy role would be to give them legal strategies to make decisions and then follow what they decided, right? That’s the whole setup.
But supporters of Thomas-Kennedy argue that Davison’s comparatively conservative views might mean she would less zealously defend the city’s progressive laws. More than 200 lawyers signed a letter of support for Thomas-Kennedy, urging voters to pay more attention to the civil law side of the city attorney’s office.
Summer Stinson, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a progressive Seattle think tank, is among the signatories. She fears Davison may not be as enthusiastic about defending laws such as the recently approved âJump Startâ payroll tax for large corporations.
Stinson singled out a political action committee, called Seattle for Common Sense, which funded negative direct mail against Thomas-Kennedy. PAC raised $ 325,000, along with major contributors including Vulcan Inc., Microsoft President Brad Smith and Real Estate Director John Goodman.
âI think a lot of it comes down to corporate taxation,â Stinson said.
Warren, the store owner, said he was not happy with the picks in the election. He is worried about Davison’s “heavy” approach as well as Thomas-Kennedy’s abolitionist platform.
âI think a reasonable municipal lawyer who becomes more moderate in his opinions could do a lot of things,â he said. “I have a lot of friends who will write in the candidates.”