On Sept. 28, the Renton Chamber of Commerce and Sound Publishing hosted a debate that gave the two candidates for King County Prosecuting Attorney a chance to discuss their values and perspectives on the position’s role as well as challenge each other’s ideas.
The candidates, Leesa Manion and Jim Ferrell, are running for an office that has long been held by Dan Satterberg, who is stepping down from the prosecutor job after 15 years.
Manion currently works as the chief of staff for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and for that reason feels like somewhat of an incumbent of the office and represents a continuation of the current administration.
Ferrell is a former prosecutor and current mayor of Federal Way, where he has been vocal about rising crime rates in his city and across the region — often blaming Satterberg’s office as well as the state Legislature for policies which, he argued, have contributed to declining perceptions of public safety.
During the debate at the Carco Theatre in Renton, the two candidates traded blows on a variety of hot issues regarding the criminal justice system in King County, including the massive backlog of cases held up in the region’s courts, police and their relationship to the community, and the effectiveness of restorative justice and diversion programs.
Many times during the debate, Ferrell positioned himself as a “change” from the current administration, saying that he was forced to run for the position after his experience as a mayor. He claimed that the current administration had used their prosecutorial discretion to allow offenders to avoid accountability, all while failing to work with cities and police departments in a collaborative way.
Manion refuted that the current administration, which she helps administrate, does not work with cities and police departments, claiming that they share data and have started collaborative initiatives aimed at certain kinds of crime in certain communities. She also maintained that, if elected, she would make more of an effort to build coalitions and work with police leaders more than her predecessor has.
Ferrell has tried to position himself as the “pro-police” candidate in this race, with a host of endorsements from several police unions across the region. During the debate, he was critical of the state’s recent pursuit laws that limit when police can enter risky chases after a suspect. Ferrell said he supports the Washington State Supreme Court’s State v. Blake decision, but is critical of the State Legislature’s response, which passed without adding the word “knowingly,” thus making simple drug possession legal by “de facto” means.
Ferrell argued that these policy changes have contributed to the increase in crime by creating “significant confusions” for police and making street level enforcement nearly “impossible.”
Manion emphasized her support of police, but also noted the need for accountability for police who abuse their power. She said that she intentionally declined the endorsements of police unions because she thought it would not be a fair for a prosecutor to accept.
Ferrell raised concerns over the thousands of felony cases that are currently backlogged and untried within the region’s courts, a condition that Manion said was due to policies instituted by a higher court during the pandemic.
Manion maintained that the backlog would probably be reduced to pre-pandemic levels in less than two years, while Ferrell emphasized the need to “triage” and sort through the most severe cases for trial.
One of Ferrell’s largest gripes with the current administration that Manion works as the chief of staff for is the Restorative Community Pathways program, a program that diverts juvenile offenders of certain low-level crimes to avoid court in favor for what Manion calls a more “holistic” approach to justice.
Ferrell claimed that his city and others were not given proper notice of the program and that it lacks transparency and accountability. He raised issues with the fact the program includes offenders of certain crimes like residential burglary and possession of a firearm.
Manion argued that the program is effective in reducing recidivism, citing an 8 percent recidivism rate in participants compared to an over 20 percent recidivism rate among incarcerated juveniles. She also said the program allows for victims to receive support and restitution for out of pocket expenses caused by the crime — arguing that it does offer justice.
A complete video of the Sept. 28 forum is available below and at the Renton Chamber of Commerce’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/c/RentonChamberofCommerce.