Clallam County prosecutor-to-be to lose civil attorneys after swearing-in

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — One of William Payne's first tasks after he is sworn in as Clallam County prosecuting attorney this week will be to find attorneys to work on civil matters.

Acting Prosecutor Mark Nichols, the county's chief civil attorney and former Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Kelly's longtime second-in-command, will step down from county employment as soon as Payne takes the oath of office at 8:45 a.m. Monday in Clallam County Superior Court Courtroom No. 1.

The other civil expert, deputy Brian Wendt, has tendered his resignation and will leave the office Friday, Payne said.

“I hate to see him go,” Payne added. “Brian was a great guy.”

Wendt did not return a call seeking comment last week.

Payne, 57, was appointed this month by a majority of the Clallam County commissioners to replace Kelly, who retired.

Kelly had one year left on her four-year term when she stepped down for family reasons Dec. 31.

“I'm looking forward to getting to work,” Payne said Thursday.

After reappointing the deputy attorneys, Payne said his first order of business will be to meet individually with county elected officials and department heads to “see what we need to do.”

The prosecutor's office represents the state in criminal cases and represents the county in lawsuits and other civil matters.

Payne said he will personally represent the county on the civil side after Wendt leaves at the end of this week.

Not seen as problem

He doesn't see the resignations of the department's two civil law specialists as a problem.

“Fortunately for us here on the Peninsula, there are a lot of people who want to be here,” said Payne, a former assistant state attorney general from Sequim.

“I've already had a couple of people reaching out to me from other counties offering some help right off the bat.”

In the meantime, Payne said he is capable of handling the civil duties until he finds replacements for Wendt and Nichols.

The departures of Nichols and Wendt would leave six deputy attorneys in the prosecutor's office, County Administrator Jim Jones said.

In a contentious Jan. 14 board meeting, Commissioners Mike Doherty and Jim McEntire voted to appoint Payne to the $127,302-per-year prosecuting attorney position.

Commissioner Mike Chapman was vehemently opposed to the nomination, saying it should have gone to Nichols because the public voted for Kelly and her administration in three elections.

Kelly was elected prosecuting attorney in 2002. She ran unopposed in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010.

Payne has said he intends to run for the position in November. The next prosecutor will be sworn in as soon as the general election is certified Nov. 25, County Auditor Patty Rosand has said.

Nichols, 42, said he is “strongly considering” his own run for chief county prosecutor.

Payne and Nichols are both Republicans.

Payne ran unsuccessfully for Clallam County Superior Court judge in 2012.

He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Wayland Baptist University in Texas and a law degree from the University of Wyoming.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 25. 2014 5:21PM
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