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Kitsap Prosecutor braces for budget cuts
The Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office has submitted its budget-cut plan, along with a warning that many crimes will now go unpunished.
“We will continue to prosecute the most important felony cases,” said Prosector Russell Hauge. “But the less serious cases, those around the edges, will fall off the table.”
The total cuts add up to around $800,000, according to Hauge.
In his budget memo to the Kitsap County commissioners, Hauge said the office will lose two full-time prosecutors and a receptionist.
The loss of the receptionist, he said, will have an immediate effect on the quality of interaction with the public and attorneys, and moving support personnel into the receptionist job will decrease staff services.
Hauge describes the current state of his office as “one or two extraordinary cases away from being overwhelmed ... and there will be negative consequences that we have not foreseen.”
“Currently we have two serious homicides charged,” Hauge said in the memo. “There are at least two more under investigation, and a potential two-count vehicular homicide to deal with. Each serious case needs the constant attention of at least two lawyers and one legal assistant. And along the way, all members of the Criminal Division management team will be engaged.”
The loss of the two attorneys — who have already received notifications their jobs may be cut — is in tandem with the adoption of an Expedited Plea Schedule.
This “cookbook” allows certain defendants to accept reduced penalties for some felony crimes as long as certain qualifications are met — and as long as they plead guilty and save the county the cost of a trial (see sidebar).
Hauge makes the proposal reluctantly.
“This step will immediately cause the quality of law enforcement to suffer,” he said. “With the expedited schedule, we are talking about offering felons misdemeanor sentences without any kind of analysis.”
With the cuts, the Civil Division will lose its receptionist and two attorneys will reduce their hours to four days a week.
Aside from the decrease of access for the public, the reduction in hours will decrease the county’s ability to deal with land use and general transactional work, including real estate.
Hauge said prosecutors only charge what they think they can prove, but may no longer have the funds to prosecute some of these winnable cases.
One area that will be re-evaluated are violations of the medical marijuana laws, of which two high-visibility cases were prosecuted earlier this year.
The county lost one case against Bruce Olsen and dismissed charges against patient Glenn Musgrove.
“With Mr. Olsen, we had evidence that he was involved in criminal activity,” Hauge said. “But under the new budget, this is the kind of case where we would think twice before prosecuting.”
Hauge said the budget memo was not a negotiating tactic, that he did not expect the commissioners to relent about cutting the budget when they are faced with the possibility of curtailed prosecution.
“I think they will most likely come back and tell us to cut even more,” he said.