About half of the office effort is directed toward criminal prosecution and serving
the needs of victims of crimes. Office policies provide for consistent prosecution
of offenders in a wide range of criminal cases including theft, fishing violations,
domestic violence, vehicular assault or homicide, and the emerging area of internet
fraud. By initiating policies for charging appropriately, approximately ninety percent
of all cases are resolved by plea agreement. Once convicted, we hold defendants
accountable and call them back to court if they do not comply with the terms of
the sentence. The office is tough on crime. We are proud of the advice jail inmates
reportedly pass along to others: "Don't go to San Juan County to commit crime."
Jetski Ordinance and Ordinance Defense
In 1995 the Board of County Commissioners asked this office to draft stringent restrictions
on the use of jetskis. The restrictions were based on the unique aspects of an archipelago
and jetski operations. We defended these restrictions in a Court challenge by the
industry. The defense was extraordinary due to the limited budget available for
the County in contrast to the industry. The County's defense was aided by more than
$18,000 in unsolicited cash donations and hundreds of hours of donated attorney
time. In 1998 the Washington State Supreme Court supported the County's appeal and
ruled that San Juan County did have the constitutional right to pass an ordinance
banning the use of motorized personal watercraft.
San Juan County "Home Rule" Charter
The San Juan County Prosecutor's Office served as the legal advisor to the Board
of Freeholders. The freeholders submitted a Charter to the people and it was approved
in the 2005 election.
Real Estate Transactions
In 2001, people from throughout the community contacted the leaders at Lafarge North
America and asked them to donate to the public the gravel pit property on San Juan
Island. The transaction began with the promise that the County would acquire
the property at a bargain price, and but first, Lafarge would be responsible for
restoration of the site as required by state law.
Now, the people of San Juan County now have
a 55 acre park property which will be governed by the San Juan Island Park and Recreation
District. The San Juan County Public Works department acquired a beach access
point which has historically been used as the site for the arrival and departure
of barges. Although this was one of the more complicated and long lasting transactions,
the lawyers in the prosecutors office provided the continuity and continued advice
to the County leaders. Restoration has now been completed The planning is
underway to determine how the property may be best used by the public.
Shown at above right is the gravel pit property in 2003 - click on the photo for
a much larger version of the same picture.
Support for State Oil Tanker Regulations
The regulation of waterbikes would mean little if federal maritime law rules allowed
vessels, of all sizes, unrestricted use of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. So, we led
the effort to provide the local perspective of statewide tanker regulations.
We submitted a brief in support of the State of Washington and environmental groups
to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court. Although
most of the regulations were found invalid, the Courts recognized the State's desire
to protect the fragile resources of the Puget Sound.
Prosecutors in San Juan County and the cities of Seattle,
Auburn and Kent responded quickly to require a campaign to repeal a gas tax to disclose
the identity of contributors and the amount of their contributions. When it was
discovered that the promoters of the campaign included two prominent talk show hosts
from KVI radio, we requested the same disclosure from them as any other person or
business that chooses to get involved in a political campaign, and we went to court
to demand it promptly, before election was over.
The Thurston County superior court judge agreed with the prosecutors, but before
the case could be wrapped up, the No New Gas Tax Campaign claimed violation of the
First Amendment speech rights. The case is pending before the court of appeals.
The copies of the briefs and news release on this case are available by clicking
here (news release announcing the suit) and
here (news release announcing the state Supreme
Lawyers and assistants stand on the steps of the Washington State Supreme Court after
argument in the No New Gas Tax Case. (above)
San Juan Sanitation Solid Waste Challenge
Have you thought about the way your garbage and recyclables are collected? Do you
like the fact that your elected officials are directly responsible for the costs
and management of the solid waste and recycling operations? We successfully defended
a challenge to the County's ownership and management of the solid waste transfer
stations. This protected the citizens' control over the facilities, operations and
costs of handling solid waste and recyclables.
Growth Management Board Cases
Since 1995 five major cases testing our land-use laws have been successfully resolved,
assuring local control over our laws and policies. The first case successfully defended
was a challenge to enactment of the Waldron Subarea Plan. Next, upon advice of this
office, fourteen appeals by 31 individuals regarding the 1996 Comprehensive Plan
was efficiently resolved through repeal and reenactment of the Comprehensive Plan
with development regulations. The 1998 Plan was found to be deficient in areas concerning
urban growth, density, and guest houses, so revisions were made.
Guesthouses and Accessory Dwelling Units: For more information and history of the
County's work on guesthouses and detached accessory units, please
Westcott Bay Dock
The aesthetics of our shoreline are important to San Juan County. It's a resource
we must protect and defend, although it is not easy. This office defended the Board
of County Commissioners' decision to deny a 300-foot dock on the pristine Westcott
Bay, requiring defense before the state boards, the trial courts and appeals courts.
The Court's decision will be remembered and referred to many times in the years
ahead as the standard for protecting the visual value of our shorelines.
"Practical Magic" Appeals
The Park Board called on the Prosecutor's Office when it was asked about the use
of the County Park for the filming of the feature movie "Practical Magic" by Warner
The controversy focused on the Park Board's need for
money to pay for basic capital improvements such as bathrooms and water systems
and the policy regarding future use of the parks for commercial ventures. This office
guided the Park Board through the process and defended it against appeals. As a
result, the Park Board received more than $80,000 from Warner Bros. -- and an estimated
$2.5 million was spent locally.
The photo to the right is the house that was built as part of the set at County Park;
at the end of shooting, the house was dismantled and removed in about a day and
a half, and the park returned to its previous condition.
Don't yawn at tax cases! They are important to assure that everyone is taxed fairly
and uniformly. Several cases illustrate this issue. First, the prosecutor defended
the valuation method of the County assessor for the Rosario Resort property. The
State Board of Tax Appeals retained the County's valuation for the year 1996. Second,
the prosecutor represented the Assessor in a successful challenge to the value averaging
rules of Referendum 47. This assured waterfront and upland property owners a fair
taxation. The assessor also joined the statewide challenges to initiatives I-695
and I-722, and provided the factual background for how these laws affected our small
Land Bank Transactions
It happens quietly and without much fanfare. But every week this office aids the
County Land Bank in protecting our scenic and ecologically significant resources.
We provide advice on negotiations with land owners, write or revise permanent agreements
that restrict development on land or to purchase land.