Ann Davison, abolitionist.
Ann Davison, abolitionist.

In a press release this morning, Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison, a Republican who campaigned as a tough-on-crime prosecutor last year, announced a plan to clear the department's nearly 5,000-case backlog of misdemeanor referrals that built up during the pandemic by declining to prosecute nearly 2,000 cases.

The cases she will not prosecute include "Property Destruction, Theft, Criminal Trespass, and Non-DUI Traffic" violations that "have been in the backlog for an average of 334 days." She added that she will also decline to prosecute cases "that have passed the statute of limitations," which is good news, because pursuing those cases would be...illegal.

To get through the remaining ~3,000 cases by the end of this year, she said she spread the load around to different specialty units within the Criminal Division (e.g. trial team, DV, specialty courts), and she expects those units collectively to work through 300 backlog cases per month. That said, City Attorney spokesperson Anthony Derrick said "the Review and Filing Unit will be taking on the bulk of the workload for the backlog cases."

They'll focus on "all crimes against persons," including "Domestic Violence, Assault with Sexual Motivation and other Assault and Harassment related crimes, crimes involving firearms and weapons possession, DUIs," and also anyone on the CAO's naughty list "or any individual with three or more current referrals pending in the backlog."

To help with all this work, she claims she's "fully staffed" the criminal division, filling "nine vacant prosecutor positions since the beginning of the year," but she'll nevertheless request money during the upcoming supplemental budget process "to fund additional staff until the backlog is eliminated." Derrick said the office would "likely" request "a combination of non-lawyer support staff, temporary assignments, and additional hours for existing staff."

In January (back when the backlog was only "more than 4,000 cases," according to a press release), Davison announced a plan to pay Brian T. Moran, the lawyer Trump appointed as the US Attorney for the Western District of Washington in 2019, "up to" $200,000 for his advice on how to clear the old cases. At the time I said that seemed like plenty of money to pay someone just to tell the office to prioritize the domestic violence and DUI cases and then decline the petty stuff. Sure enough, that's the tack he appears to have taken.

Moreover, the strategy here more or less aligns with the one former City Attorney Pete Holmes used to address backlogs during his administration. In a response to the "Seattle Is Dying" report, which was written by Scott Lindsay, who now serves as Deputy City Attorney, Holmes conceded that some low-level crimes took months to file due to staffing issues. To address that problem, he "prioritized cases that involve crimes against people (Assaults, Harassment, DUI, Domestic Violence) over theft cases."

Holmes also pushed for more money to hire more prosecutors, but he also recognized that city leaders were in "the unenviable position of balancing funding for quicker filing of cases from my office with funding for affordable housing, navigation team homelessness response, and dozens of other priorities." That same year, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat bemoaned Holmes's call for more funds to address backlogs, arguing that the office had more money and fewer cases than it ever had before. He concluded his report by saying the request for more money was "starting to feel like code for nothing’s going to change," and he was probably right but for different reasons: Data suggest that trying to prosecute your way out of a misdemeanor crime problem is counterproductive and incredibly expensive. Davison's office currently enjoys a larger budget than Holmes had, so it'll be fun to see what Westneat & Co. make of the agency's request when they make it later this year, if they care to check in.

In any event, the press release did not include any information about a plan to compensate victims of the property destruction and theft that Davison's office won't charge. During the campaign, Davison did not express support for a victim compensation fund that members of the Seattle City Council wanted to stand up. Until that fund gets up and running, the people who got their shit jacked or busted up are shit out of luck.