Politically speaking, it was an exciting week recently when King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced that his current term would be his last.
It’s a job he has held for 14 years after he was appointed when Norm Maleng suddenly passed away.
As the incumbent chief deputy, Satterberg was already knowledgeable about the policy direction in the office and well known professionally. Since then, he has run unopposed in 2010 and 2014. In 2018, his opponent dropped out of the race. Satterberg has a solid reputation as a thoughtful professional and has come up with improvements to try to keep juveniles from revolving through the legal process and ending up in jail with a life wasted. Since 1949, only four people have held the position of King County prosecutor — all men.
While Satterberg has not made a public endorsement to fill his job, he has emphasized wanting to give all candidates a chance to think about it until the May filing date. Two candidates, both of whom he knows, have filed paperwork with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) to run for the position.
Had Satterberg chosen to run again, there seems little doubt he would have won. He remains well respected, even to those who don’t always agree with him.
The two candidates vying to replace him so far are his longtime chief deputy, Leesa Manion, and current Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, who is a former staff member in the prosecutor’s office.
Lisa Daugaard, Executive Director of the Public Defender Association, said in a recent Seattle Times story that Satterberg was ahead of his time in trying to bring more progressive outcomes to the King County Prosecutor’s Office. About 30 years ago, it was enough to promise to arrest all the bad guys and put them in jail. Nowadays, the public has learned that hiring more police and building more prisons is an expensive answer.
Nowadays, the progressive prosecutor has to find ways to try to rehabilitate those who may still be an asset to society if held accountable and mentored. Satterberg proposed a juvenile diversion program that became a nonprofit called Choose 180, which wanted to keep young people out of the legal system. He was frequently challenged, but Satterberg kept at it. He also had a sister with a drug problem that caused him to think more about treatment rather than prosecution for small-time drug offenders.
I had the pleasure of working with Satterberg during my tenure with King County. The respect he has earned is justified. He truly cares about trying to do the right thing.
While more candidates may decide to get in the race as they think it through, the two people who have made it clear they plan to run will provide an interesting contrast.
Leesa Manion has been Satterberg’s chief of staff for 14 years and has a good reputation among other county workers. She would likely reflect her training and Satterberg’s mentoring. She would be the first female and person of color to be King County Prosecutor.
Ferrell was just elected to his third term as mayor of Federal Way and has been away from the prosecutor’s office for several years. He made no secret of his interest in the prosecutor’s job over the past few months as rumors circulated that Satterberg might not run again. But there may be a policy difference between the two candidates. Satterberg has proposed another new plan to keep youth out of the legal system.
The Restorative Community Pathways program is an evidence-based strategy for holding young people who commit a first-time offense accountable, reducing youth incarceration and racial disproportionality and stopping them from becoming repeat offenders. It also includes staffing to help the victims along with a director to supervise and ensure the victims are made whole.
The program was briefed to school resource officers and was implemented in November. The mayors of Federal Way, Auburn, Renton and Kent have asked that the program be paused until they find common ground. Those four cities make up 27% of the felony filings charged by the prosecutor. The mayors like the overall intent, but they want to see more offenses added to the list. They have seen an increase in the violence in their communities. The program outlines eligible offenses so that youth who cause harm will be held accountable. Ferrell added a “pause resolution” to the agenda at a recent Federal Way City Council meeting, and most of the speakers were on one side or the other of this issue. Most actually favored the program and told how they felt it would have kept them out of trouble. The resolution was held over for a February meeting to ensure council members have a chance to study the issue. More will be heard about this issue as we get into the political season.
In parallel challenges, Kent City Councilmember Bill Boyce was elected council president, then announced his plans to run as a Republican against Democrat Mona Das for her seat in the state Senate. At the same time, Federal Way City Council President Linda Kochmar, a Republican, is getting closer to running against democrat Claire Wilson for the Senate . This could be a busy year for incumbent legislators trying to keep their job — races are expected in Districts 30, 33 and 47, among others. But the race for King County Prosecutor will be the highlight.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.