PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s office is back providing all civil services after the top prosecutor’s return to work following a heart attack, said Prosecuting Attorney Michael Haas and County Commissioner David Sullivan.
On Sept. 12, Haas sent an email to the commissioners saying that his office would not deal with certain civil matters, such as department contract reviews or public records requests.
Haas was out on medical leave at the time after having a heart attack Sept. 4. He has since been cleared for work.
According to Haas, he had told his office to focus on criminal cases that he deemed the most important at the time. The commissioners did not react favorably to this news when it was presented to them at a meeting Sept. 12.
“It was a concern for awhile,” said Philip Morley, county administrator. “They provide a very necessary function for the county.”
Haas said that commissioners originally thought the move would be in effect indefinitely.
He said that was a misunderstanding.
“Looking back on the memo I sent the commissioners, I wasn’t as clear as I could’ve been,” Haas said, “though I was recovering from a heart attack.”
“We were in triage mode for awhile,” Haas said. “That’s fair to say. I looked at what we had on the table at the time and we had some very similar criminal cases that we thought were the most important at the time.”
Since he returned to work Monday, the office has returned to business as usual, according to Haas, and the commissioners and Haas have continued negotiations on a salary for a vacant attorney position.
Tensions arose last week between the county commissioners and Haas over a potential pay raise for a currently unfilled civil attorney position. The position was held by David Alvarez until June, when he left to take a position in the Clallam County Prosecutor’s Office.
“His requests aren’t unreasonable, but we have to look at them in the context of the overall budget,” Sullivan said. “As far as I know, they have resumed all duties, but I know they’re challenged since they don’t have all positions filled.”
Sullivan said Haas wanted to raise the salary for the open position in order to draw better candidates and generate more interest in the open position.
However, according to Sullivan, the commissioners have hired a research firm to find them some qualified candidates.
“We can afford that since it’s a one-time expense,” Sullivan said. “It’s the ongoing expenses that the county struggles with and we’re already working with a smaller staff than in 2010.”
Despite that, Sullivan said the commissioners are not ruling out the possibility of raising the salary if it is needed to find or keep a quality candidate. According to Haas, the commissioners did concede a small raise for the position to attract viable candidates.
“They have a responsibility to the budget and I have a responsibility to make sure we have qualified attorneys,” Haas said. “So there’s a little tension there but that’s just built into the system.”
The County Prosecutor’s Office provides legal advice for the county on everything from potential litigation to tribal relations to employment law and public records compliance.
“Every department relies on them for legal advice,” Sullivan said.
“It’s a complicated job because every department is going to need something different. The needs of the treasurer are very different from the needs of the commissioners or the other county departments.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5550, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.