Staff morale is key issue in race for King County Prosecuting Attorney

In the heat of a campaign, candidates tangle words and send unintended signals.

Sometimes, those gaffes reveal larger troubles. Take the race for King County Prosecuting Attorney.

On Oct. 20, Leesa Manion, who currently serves as the office’s chief of staff, once again confronted the fact she only tried a single case in 27 years.

“The people of King County are not electing me to stand in a courtroom,” she told the crowd at a debate sponsored by the Seattle King County NAACP. “I could do that tomorrow. We have brand-new lawyers fresh out of law school going to trial. … Voters are electing me to set the tone in the office. The CEO of Amazon is not putting the labels on the boxes and they are not driving the trucks.”

The impact in the office was immediate and fiercely negative, so much so that Manion had to send an all-employee email. The subject: “I’d Like To Apologize.”

“I am sorry my comment was received as dismissive and, as a result, caused offense,” she wrote two days later.

Prosecutors are stretched thin to confront a spike in violent crimes, including trying seven murders at the same time. Cases are increasing complex, often including police bodycam footage, surveillance cameras and DNA evidence, as well as recalcitrant witnesses and jurors hostile to law enforcement.

Manion’s mistake comes as veteran prosecutors report significant moral issues in the office, particularly in the Criminal Division.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor William Doyle, who handles homicides, responded via email to Manion, saying it causes prosecutors significant harm “when the second-in-command gives the impression to the public that the criminal trial work that we do is easy and can be done by anyone fresh out of law school.”

Voters weighing the choice between Manion and Jim Ferrell, a former prosecutor in the office who now serves as Federal Way major, should also consider a few key endorsements.

Former Chief Criminal Deputy Mark Larson has backed Ferrell, in part out of concerns that the office is not well-positioned to handle cases involving serious and violent crime. “Victims of these crimes deserve to have the best and most experienced deputy prosecutors as their advocates,” Larson wrote in a statement. “Sadly, over the last few years, highly experienced trial prosecutors have been leaving these positions in record number.”

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O’Toole, who has served in the office for more than 30 years, backs Ferrell. So does Jim Whisman, head of the Appellate Unit. “Jim (Ferrell) will restore the collegiality, honesty, candor, and competence that this office was once known for,” reads his statement on Ferrell’s campaign website.

The Times editorial board endorsed Ferrell, in part because he represents an important opportunity for an outsider with experience to shake things up in the Prosecutor’s Office, rebuilding the pride and loyalty once found among its attorneys and staff.

As voters fill out their ballots, the status of the workforce and its ability to advocate for justice should be a top priority. Ferrell is the best choice for King County Prosecuting Attorney.

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