Jefferson County sheriff seeks to mediate in dispute between prosecuting attorney, judge

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Sheriff Tony Hernandez said last week he will attempt to resolve an impasse between District Court Judge Jill Landes and Prosecuting Attorney Scott Rosekrans that has resulted in an unusual assertion: Rosekrans has claimed Landes cannot fairly adjudicate trials.

“What I am seeing on its face is mis­communication or misunderstanding” between the two elected officials, Hernandez said.

Hernandez said he has talked to Landes and Rosekrans and hopes to set up a meeting for this week or by the beginning of next week at the latest.

“I know in some previous news articles and conversations regarding that that the judge disagreed with the prosecutor's philosophy regarding making no plea deals, that they are not making plea deals,” Hernandez said.

Rosekrans made the unfairness claim against Landes in eight recent separate District Court cases by filing affidavits of prejudice against the judge.

The affidavits assert Landes cannot perform “an impartial trial or hearing,” which disqualifies her from overseeing those cases.

Landes, first elected in 2006, was re-elected in 2010 and is up for re-election again this year.

She said last week she did not know why Rosekrans filed the affidavits, which do not include explanations.

In an interview last week, Rosekrans would not fill in the blank.

“I'm not going to go into that,” he said.

Landes said she was bewildered by the filings.

“Just out of the blue, he started filing them,” she said. “There is no dispute that I am aware of at all.

“He does whatever he does. I can't get inside his head.”

Landes said she didn't know what she, Hernandez and Rosekrans would discuss.

“There is no mediation because there is nothing to mediate,” she said.

However, she would attend.

“I have no idea what this meeting would be about, but if he wants to be in the same room with me, if he wants to say certain things to me, that's fine,” Landes said.

Landes is the county's only sitting District Court judge. Her disqualification forces the county to rely on county lawyers to adjudicate the trials or to rely on District Court judges in nearby counties.

That creates extra expense for taxpayers who must pay for judge pro tems while a sitting judge continues to receive a salary, District Court Administrator Tracie Bick said.

It also potentially lengthens defendants' jail times and trial procedures, Bick said.

Bick, who has worked in District Court for 17 years and whose supervisor is Landes, said the prosecutor's office filings are among 76 active affidavits of prejudice filed against Landes since June 15, 2009.

“It's very common for a defense lawyer to filed an affidavit periodically, but I've never seen the state do this, file an affidavit of prejudice against an elected judge,” Bick said.

Rosekrans, elected in 2010 and up for re-election this year, filed the affidavits between Dec. 10-16.

They relate to anti-harassment, domestic violence and driving-under-the-influence cases.

“This is something me, Judge Landes and the sheriff will talk about later in January,” Rosekrans said.

“I don't think this is something that needs to be aired out in the media.

“I did not call the media to make this into a media event.”

But he indicated in a Dec. 25 interview with The Leader weekly newspaper of Jefferson County that he takes a hard line on cases involving domestic violence and driving under the influence.

“Over two years ago, I made the decision, due to not having enough prosecutors to handle the caseload, to eliminate the time wasted in negotiating deals with those who choose to drive under the influence on our streets and those who choose to physically abuse the ones they 'love,'” Rosekrans told the newspaper.

“This decision has not set well with some defense attorneys or the court.

“It was predicted that this experiment would fail miserably, yet two years later, it is still in place, with juries routinely holding drunk drivers accountable.”

Hernandez wants to have a meeting with Landes and Rosekrans soon.

“The sooner the better, because we want to be as least disruptive to the criminal justice system as possible,” Hernandez said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 04. 2014 7:08PM
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