Tuesday, February 2, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Michelle Malkin

Double Standard Of Justice For Officials With Drugs?

Times Editorial Columnist

TAKE a look at these recent local-news headlines from Snohomish County:Drug tests show cocaine on official's clothing

Dantini denies cocaine use, won't face criminal charges

If you're thinking what I'm thinking, then you remembered these strikingly similar headlines from King County last year:

Drug residue found on prosecutor

Former deputy prosecutor won't face drug charges

The common denominator shared by these two sets of news items? Our state Attorney General, whose law enforcers in Olympia let two public officials escape the tough-on-drugs dragnet.

AG Christine Gregoire may have a national reputation as a hard-nosed opponent of addictive tobacco products. But her underlings at home seem unusually lenient when it comes to prosecuting fellow public servants found in possession of much more dangerous and addictive substances, such as methamphetamine and cocaine. Take the case of King County Deputy Prosecutor Will Miller, who was stopped at the King County Courthouse security entrance last March.

His alibis: I didn't know I had that meth pipe, 10-gram scale, X-acto knife, package of blades, and baggie of funny powder in my briefcase. My roommate put it there. And I flunked that lie detector test because the courthouse made me jittery.

Miller's case was referred to the AG's office by King County to avoid a conflict of interest. Then, Greg Canova - Gregoire's hyper-political chief criminal prosecutor, who campaigned against state Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders on a relentless "tough on crime" platform - announced his decision not to file charges against Miller barely two weeks after losing the election.

The latest legal Houdini is Bob Dantini, Snohomish County treasurer. Last May, Dantini was arrested at his home for a domestic-violence incident involving his girlfriend. Police records obtained by Times reporter Nancy Montgomery showed that the alleged victim, crying and trembling, called 911 and told deputies that Dantini had assaulted her because she ripped a vial of cocaine from his pajama pocket and hid it to stop him from abusing drugs. Both the vial and Dantini's pajama top tested positive for cocaine.

Dantini's escape-hatch explanations: My girlfriend planted that coke on my PJs. Her clothes were torn and her knee was bloody because she tried to assault me. To avoid a conflict of interest, Snohomish County officials turned over the potential felony drug possession case to the AG's office (but curiously, not the domestic-violence charge). After seven months, state attorneys announced last week that they would not prosecute because the alleged victim refused to testify and her statements would be inadmissible hearsay.

The Snohomish County prosecutor then dropped plans to prosecute Dantini for the alleged domestic violence, even though deputies say the girlfriend exhibited physical signs of assault on the night of the incident. Dantini claims he held the alleged victim down in self-defense; he has also reportedly said that she must have put the drugs on his jammies and that he "never" and "not once" has ever used coke.

Dantini may be telling the truth, but seasoned public defenders smell preferential treatment for politicians. Their clients are told to tell their stories to a jury.

King County public defender Theresa Olson, a 13-year veteran, says Snohomish County appears "to be operating under a different set of evidentiary rules than we have in King County or in the state of Washington." If the alleged domestic-violence victim made statements when she was distraught and trembling due to the conduct of the accused, Olson explained to me, the remarks are "excited utterances," a well-known exception to the hearsay rule.

Gini Faller, a fellow defender in the felony division of the Seattle-King County Public Defender Association, adds that she has had domestic-violence cases "where somebody retracts original statements, but must cooperate if prosecutors issue a material witness warrant."

Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart also told me that localities such as the city of Everett routinely take domestic-violence cases to court without cooperating victims.

As for dropping the drug charge despite the physical evidence, King County public defender Richard Warner says, "It really looks like a double standard is being applied." Trace residue doesn't make for the strongest case, he says, but it is regularly grounds for prosecution of indigent and politically unconnected clients who usually sit in jail. Defendants in drug cases across the country are routinely sentenced to lengthy prison terms based on the testimony of snitches and no physical evidence at all.

The public defenders don't object to the state's compassion for defendants or critical scrutiny of evidence. "My objection," Faller says, "is that neither compassion nor critical eyes ever seem to benefit my clients."

Sheriff Bart, a former narcotics officer himself, voices a similar concern: "I don't think anybody's above the law. We have to be consistent, otherwise people won't have respect for the law."

For his part, Dantini told the press that his experience is "a reminder of how susceptible we are to setbacks in life." Wrong. It's a stark lesson in how a fortunate few are less accountable to the rule of law than others.

Michelle Malkin's column appears Tuesday on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is:

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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