Nichols seeks a third term as Clallam County’s prosecuting attorney

Public safety, mental health court among his stated priorities

Mark Nichols.

Mark Nichols.

PORT ANGELES — Mark Nichols announced Wednesday that he will seek a third four-year term as Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney/Coroner.

Nichols, 50, who was elected in 2014 and 2018, has no announced opposition in this year’s race for the non-partisan position at this point.

Filing week for the Nov. 8 general election is May 16-20. The last day for candidates to withdraw from the race without their names being on the ballot is May 23. The primary election for races with more than two candidates is Aug. 2.

“Public safety remains my top priority,” Nichols said.

“We have successfully prosecuted the worst offenders and sent them to prison,” he added, referring to recent quadruple and triple homicides.

A campaign commitment in 2018, the creation of a mental health court, is about to come to fruition, Nichols said.

It will “go live” in Judge Dave Neupert’s District Court I, which has jurisdiction over the eastern side of the county, in a few months, he said Wednesday.

“It’s taken a few years,” Nichols said. “It’s been a heavy lift” which “has taken literally years of discussion” and coordination among county, behavioral health, hospital and law enforcement officials.

Funding has been assured — through the county and a state grant — for the first three to five years, and a coordinator, Birget Talman, has been hired, Nichols said.

Right now, a planning team is creating the details of the program, he added, saying he hopes it will help ease the homeless crisis among other problems.

Nichols also pointed to death statistics collected through the coroner’s office that provide data on fatal overdoses, suicides and accidents, with breakdowns by age, gender, month and other metrics.

“This provides a picture of what’s happening in our communities in terms of where we need to work in education and public health campaigns,” he said.

This year, Nichols said the coroner’s office will be expanded by two or three positions to meet the requirements of Washington state law that offices hire certified medical legal investigators.

“This is a good development for Washington state,” he said. “It provides a level of uniformity across the state and increases the quality of death investigations.”

The prosecuting attorney’s office’s budget for 2022 is $4,015,250. The office has 28 full-time equivalents divided about equally between support staff and prosecutors, Nichols said.

Nichols has run as a Republican in the past, but the Clallam County Charter has since changed to make his job a non-partisan position, a change he agrees with.

In lieu of delineating a party preference, Nichols described himself as a “fiscal conservative and simultaneously a social libertarian.”

“I feel my beliefs are aligned with the majority of Clallam County residents who don’t want government to be overly intrusive in our lives,” he said.

That extends to health measures, which are necessary for public safety but which should be balanced by concern for personal rights, Nichols said.

“It’s a fine line for government,” which must “advance measures designed to protect and preserve health and welfare without infringing on people’s rights,” he said.

His office never shut down during surges in the COVID-19 pandemic, Nichols said.

“We stayed open for business, on both the prosecuting and coroner front.”

But because courts were shut down to virtual hearings only, many deputy prosecutors worked from home.

“We’ve been proactive,” Nicholas said, adding that the office quickly executed work-from-home agreements, installed air filters and kept lines of communication open with all staff members.

Nichols, a bachelor, lives in Port Angeles. Born and raised in Seattle, he first came to Clallam County as a commissioned park ranger with Olympic National Park. After earning a law degree, he came back to the county to work in the prosecutor’s office in the early 2000s as a juvenile court representative.

After a brief stint as a private attorney in Seattle, he returned to the prosecuting attorney’s office, where he was promoted to the chief deputy position, working with then-Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly.

At the end of 2018, former Clallam County employee Tina Hendrickson’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Nichols, the prosecuting attorney at the time, was settled in an agreement under which Hendrickson was to be paid $350,000.

“Notably, the plaintiff agreed that the settlement is no admission of any fault by Mr. Nichols, consistent with the findings of the independent investigator,” according to Nichols’ statement at the time.

As of Wednesday, Nichols had not filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission, but he said he planned to do that soon.

“It has been a honor and privilege to serve for last seven years, and I’d like to continue in that service,” he said.

________

Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at lleach@peninsuladailynews.com.

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