PORT TOWNSEND — The three Jefferson County commissioners agreed to an interlocal agreement Monday that provides the city of Port Townsend with prosecutorial services through the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Under the terms of the three-year contract active from April 1 through Dec. 31, 2022, the city will pay $70,000 annually to Jefferson County for up to 275 adult misdemeanor cases within the city. Discovery for traffic infractions also will be included in the caseload. The county will not be responsible for any civil enforcement cases for the city.
Any cases over the annual limit would be charged at $500 each. Historically, the annual caseload has been 250 cases at the city level.
There is an annual increase built into the overall agreement of 2.5 percent.
The Port Townsend City Council approved the agreement on its April 15 consent agenda.
Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney James Kennedy said there have been discussions with his office and the city of Port Townsend since February.
Christopher Ashcraft, previously the city’s prosecutor, re-joined the county staff as chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney in February, which prompted the city to re-examine its needs and priorities for prosecutorial services. Ashcraft served as chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney for Jefferson County from 2009-2015.
The city considered the position’s workload and the mutual benefits that would come from such an agreement.
In the absence of a city prosecutor, the county has been handling the city’s misdemeanor cases on an interim basis without compensation.
“As it stands now, all felonies that occur in Jefferson County are prosecuted by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office,” Kennedy said. “However, misdemeanors committed inside of the city are prosecuted by the city of Port Townsend. In the unincorporated areas, they are handled by my office.”
He said the interlocal agreement “makes a lot of sense.”
“The levels of offenses coming out of Port Townsend are not really high enough from the city’s standpoint to justify having their own prosecutor, which is costly for them,” Kennedy said. “And, they are not so great that my office would not be able to absorb that added caseload without any major additional cost or detriment.”
Ashcraft said the cost to the city for a prosecutor was “well over $100,000.”
Kennedy said his staff will be working closely with Port Townsend police on all cases going forward, creating efficiencies with victim services.
“There is one thing that has long been a point of contention among our local defense attorneys depending on who represents the city and who represents the county,” Kennedy said. “We’ve had different individuals over the years and sometimes there would be vastly different plea offers or settlements for cases that seemed somewhat identical. It was a disparity they didn’t like to explain to their clients.”
He said the agreement consolidates the representation and therefore eliminates the disparity.
The county and the city have two other criminal justice interlocal agreements—one for district court and one for jail services.
Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].