Are small-time scofflaws off the hook? Port Angeles to stop taking minor felony cases referred from county

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — As of next Tuesday, the City Attorney’s Office will no longer accept minor felony criminal cases, such as some property crimes and drug cases, that are referred from the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the city’s chief financial officer said this week.

Mark Nichols, chief deputy Clallam County prosecuting attorney, said Wednesday that Port Angeles declining to hear a case could potentially result in it not being prosecuted, though that would ultimately be up to the city.

“The practical effect is that there may not be a prosecution as to certain offenders,” Nichols said.

Byron Olson told City Council members during a budget work session that “felony diversions” — low-level felony cases within the city limit that the county prosecutor’s office turns over to the city attorney to be handled as misdemeanors — are one of the main reasons the city’s criminal justice costs have increased by more than $200,000 since 2010.

City Manager Dan McKeen has said in past budget workshops that the city’s general fund can no longer support rising criminal justice costs.

Those costs, which include district court administrative costs and money to pay for public defenders, rose 21.6 percent from about $837,000 in 2011 to roughly $1.02 million last year.

Nichols said city officials have met about these concerns with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which is itself dealing with shrinking resources.

“The county can identify with the dilemma facing the city,” Nichols said.

Nichols said the city does have the ability to decline to hear diverted cases, just as the county can send them to the city in the first place.

Staff in the City Attorney’s Office started tracking how many criminal cases had been deferred from the county in the latter part of 2011, City Attorney Bill Bloor has said.

During that time, 59 cases were deferred as misdemeanors and thereby made the city’s responsibility, Bloor said.

The city handled 930 total criminal cases in 2011, according to figures from the Attorney’s Office.

In 2012, Bloor said the city handled 128 deferred cases, or 15 percent of the total 838 criminal cases it worked through that year.

Figures for 2013 were not immediately available.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 25. 2013 7:27PM
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