CHIMACUM — Jefferson County prosecuting attorney Michael Haas and challenger James M. Kennedy sparred over experience and office turnover during a League of Women Voters/American Association of University Women general election forum.
About 75 people turned out to hear the forum — which also included candidates for District Court — at the Tri-Area Community Center on Thursday evening. The program was moderated by businesswoman Renee Klein.
Candidates are on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Ballots will be mailed to registered voters on Oct. 17.
Both candidates agreed on a need for more training to handle victims of sexual assault and their privacy, and the need for a sexual assault nurse examiner.
They disagreed on other issues.
Haas, 57, who is running for a second term, and Kennedy, 37, who worked for Hass and then left to work as a prosecutor in Clallam County, debated their experience and management styles.
Haas said he has been an attorney for 30 years — 15 spent in prosecution, 11 in defense, and the rest in civil. He claimed “a fairly broad background,” adding that “it’s important that the elected have a broad base of experience to assist on the prosecution side as well as the civil side.”
Haas said that this gives him an important difference from his opponent.
“Mr. Kennedy has practiced law for a little less than six years and if you look at the least experienced in the office, they have nine years,” he said. “Legal issues and factual issues requires experience, and having experience from both sides of the aisle helps.”
Kennedy, 37, a deputy prosecuting attorney in Clallam county, said he prosecutes adult felonies across the spectrum, and comes from a background of leadership and management.
“With the exception of one of the deputies in the office, I have more prosecution experience than all of them combined,” Kennedy said.
”The prosecuting attorney is expected to take case load and handle cases, but its more than that. It’s being a manager and leader for the office. I have quite a bit of leadership and management experience from my nearly six years in the military as an officer. It’s a different skill set.”
Haas said four attorneys all left, at different times, after his election.
“Quite frankly, I wasn’t told it wasn’t anything more than new opportunities; I suspect it had something to do with personality of the elected,” Haas said. “I’m fine with that. The deputy prosecuting attorneys serve at the pleasure of the elected.
“I could have taken the opportunity to sack everyone,” Haas added.
“The choices we made gave us incredible opportunities. We are talking with a staff of 11, four left for retirement, another person disagreed with some of my policies. Although it created tension initially, we replaced folks and have a great team.
“If Mr. Kennedy wins this election, he’ll walk into an incredible, skilled office,” Haas said.
Kennedy refuted Haas’ claim.
“It wasn’t just the attorneys who left. It was almost the entire staff, save one who is still there.
“After my opponent took over, it became clear that our job is not to serve our community anymore,” Kennedy said. “It seemed like we were there to serve our local defense bar, do whatever the defense attorneys told us to do.
“If they didn’t like our answers, many times they would go over our heads to my opponent and he would give them whatever they wanted. It was just another defense office in town,” Kennedy added.
“If there are no prosecutors, there is no one looking out for crime victims or the community. That’s not a good balance.
“Part of the reason I’m running is to restore that balance that’s supposed to exist. Every attorney has been replaced with attorneys who have prosecution experience.”
The next League of Women Voters/AAUW voter’s forum will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Port Ludlow Beach Club, 121 Marina View Drive. Sheriff David Stanko and challenger Joe Nole as well as Jefferson County Public Utility District commissioner candidates Tom Brotherton and Dan Toepper will debate.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]