Tuesday, February 9, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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AG's Office Responds

Special To The Times

A RECENT column by Seattle Times editorial columnist Michelle Malkin inaccurately accuses the state attorney general's office of letting two "public officials escape" in cases involving "dangerous and addictive substances." ("Double standard of justice for officials with drugs?" - Feb. 2.)

Malkin made no inquiry of our office as to the facts and basis for declining to file criminal charges in these two cases or any other case. Had she done so she would have discovered that whether the suspect is a private citizen or a public official, the attorney general's office standards in determining whether and what charges should be brought are the same. Malkin neglects to mention that when the evidence is there, the AG's office does not hesitate to charge public officials with serious crimes.

Since the Legislature created limited criminal jurisdiction for the attorney general in 1981, the office has charged and successfully prosecuted public employees and elected/appointed public officials in cases ranging from bribery to embezzlement. As recently as 1997, the AG's office prosecuted a city clerk/treasurer for embezzling over $100,000 in city funds. The defendant was sentenced to prison and ordered to pay restitution of $150,000.

In 1995 and 1997, the AG's Criminal Prosecution Unit evaluated the evidence, charged and prosecuted two veteran law-enforcement officers for serious felony crimes in two separate situations. Although the juries either acquitted or were unable to reach unanimous verdicts on these charges, such cases illustrate this office's commitment to its legal and ethical obligations to fairly and impartially enforce the laws of the state of Washington.

The above cases are consistent with this office's long history of prosecuting meritorious cases against public employees and officials. For example, in 1986, the office obtained convictions for nine charges of bribery against an elected county auditor, who was then sentenced to and served over 5 years in prison.

Public prosecutors have an overriding obligation to Washington's citizens and the Constitution to ensure justice is done in every case. Career prosecutors with over 20 years of felony trial experience review and recommend whether criminal charges be filed or declined in cases handled by the attorney general's office.

A decision not to file criminal charges in a particular case is a crucial part of our obligation. Before charges can and should be filed, it is our responsibility to make sure we have solid evidence to build a strong case that will stand up in a court of law.

At first glance, many potential criminal cases appear to have merit. However, every prosecution decision must ultimately turn upon the availability of legally admissible evidence. In the cases mentioned by Malkin, it was the absence of such legally admissible evidence that dictated the difficult decisions about which she now complains.

Not only did Malkin fail to do her homework, she ignored a history of cases where public officials, just like other citizens, have been held accountable for their actions.

While the domestic violence report mentioned by Malkin is being reviewed by another agency, it should be noted the attorney general is a strong advocate for domestic violence prosecution and laws that protect domestic violence victims. She has co-chaired two statewide domestic violence summits, supported legislation to impose tougher penalties for domestic violence, and was instrumental in passing the law that makes it a crime to interfere with a person calling 911. Malkin's inference that this office is also lax in the domestic violence arena, based on the status of the alleged offender, ignores this record.

The attorney general's office fully supports the responsibility of opinion writers and others to cry foul when they discover and, by checking their facts, substantiate a miscarriage of justice or public duty. But in the two cases cited by Malkin, she was dead wrong and ill-informed.

John Scott Blonien is chief of the Criminal Division in the state attorney general's office.

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


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