Officials and Guests in Attendance
The committee members were present as well as Kimberly La Fronz (Attorney with Department of Public Defense, State Courts), Michael Schueler (King County Public Defender, Superior Courts), Rachel Schultz (Dept of Public Defense Union), Dr. Edwin Lindo (U of Washington, Critical Race Theorist, UW Vaccination Rollout Equity Committee), Dan Satterberg (KC Prosecuting Attorney), Stephanie Soto (HR for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office), Anita Khandelwel (Director, Department of Public Defense), Presiding Judge Jim Rogers (Superior Court), Judge Susan Mahoney (KC District Court), and Jennifer Brenes (President, KC Search and Rescue).
Officials were prepared, attentive, and courteous. Some had differing opinions from certain speakers or other members but it was kept very professional.
Accessing the Meeting and Materials
The meeting started on time. I observed the entire meeting. The agenda was available and the meeting was easily accessible.
Summary of Discussion
The agenda was followed. A discussion of the implementation of the recently voted upon King County Charter Amendments (5 and 6) at the end that was added.
CM Zahilay: Recognition of being on Duwamish land. Clearly outlined structure of different parts, emphasis on safety.
Question about the hundreds of cases that have been tried that aren’t an immediate threat to public safety, things that we should care about but not necessary right now.
Supports changing the system, emphasizing the importance of the safety of those incarcerated over the importance of the backlog.
Question to Judge Rogers: disconnect between policies and practices. What mechanisms to push for compliance to public health/safety?
Comments on recidivism, that incarceration is not the answer. Need to focus on fixing the root causes, racial inequities in the incarcerated population.
CM Lambert: Comments saying that the idea of not doing a good job on vaccination is not necessarily true, hard to get vaccines to all people and saying those in jails are on the list for vaccinations.
Concern about backlog and domestic violence.
Question about repeat offenders.
Thanked the search and rescue team for their hard work and dedication.
CM Balducci: Interested to know after the hearing, something statistical to learn about case filings. Question to Judge Rogers: problem solving form.
CM Dunn: Question about moving forward on stopping prosecution of crimes, misdemeanor/poverty. Comments to Judge Rogers and Judge Mahoney, emphasize budget requests in relation to the courts.
CM Kohl-Welles: Question to Judge Rogers, virtual court meetings more inaccessible to those who don't speak english or don't have access to tech. What steps to overcome this?
Public Defender: Comment about trial during covid: concerns about lack of technology, hard to conduct the trial. Safety concerns, jurors being unmasked with others, being close to their client (lack of safety measures, even after a juror was potentially exposed). Court system had no plans with what to do with covid exposures, notifying people. Was impressed with spread of jurors, use of zoom.
Rob Karlinsey, City Manager of Kenmore, Part of Oversight Committee for Police: Hopeful about changes from Charter Amendments 5 and 6.
Short but well controlled and very respectful from the Chair, allowed each person to speak in detail even past the allotted time.
Approving the minutes of December 8th
Briefing No. 2021B0013: Covid 19 Public Health Compliance in County Courts and Jails
CM Zahilay: Emphasized the necessity of keeping people safe, but also our duty to do so.
Kimberly La Fronz (Attorney with Department of Public Defense, State Courts): Courts not always following the required public safety guidelines (social distancing, dividers, etc), even with some developments but still not enough (people feeling unsafe).
Two main difficulties/disconnects, even with zoom meetings: communication, court to attorneys and those on trial. Many showing up not knowing they had opportunity over zoom, confusion. Enforcement, masking wearing and social distancing. Falls on judges but they have a lot to handle, policies go unenforced.
KC Prosecuting Attorney’s Office: Concern with arraignment calendar, pushing trials that could wait until it's safer.
Michael Schueler (King County Public Defender, Superior Courts): Problem with judges removing masks to emphasize points as well as the capacity of the court, difficult to properly distance and enforce masking. Difficulty with arraignments and outbreaks in the courtroom.
Concern isn’t just with the courts: concern with the jail and the prosecuting attorney’s office. Issues with masking, safe access to clients.
Guards with masks down, taking them off (consistent complaint since beginning of covid). Combined with high rates of positive tests from guards.
Attorney booth: can feel air being blown from each side, stuck close together between attorney and those accused. Anytime meeting with a client, not able to fully follow cdc guidelines (need more safety measures).
Jail not setup to handle positive cases, lack of online abilities to meet with clients who are suspected positives for covid (jails have capacity to allow for remote hearings, but haven’t done so).
Similar concerns about arraignment calendars: chose to file some cases during covid even when the Statute of Limitations allowed them to wait. Lower level cases and charges that could have waited.
Rachel Schultz (Dept of Public Defense Union): These examples being presented aren’t “one-offs,” safety is a problem for everyone in these situations.
Discussion of advances in structure, steps taken: more safety measures/equipment, working online.
Courts still inconsistent with safety, similar to what was said before -> hold courts and jails accountable for lack of safety.
Dr. Edwin Lindo (University of Washington, Critical Race Theorist, UW Vaccination Rollout Equity Committee): People being held behind bars for poverty crimes, smaller misdemeanor crimes that can be easily remedied. Those in jail unsure about their safety and when they could get the vaccine.
Willing to commit resources and time to volunteer and give vaccines to incarcerated folks, just need vaccines available.
Need organization: who is serving South Seattle, incarcerated people. Before vaccine distribution becomes inequitable -> time to put direct and intentional focus on where vaccines go (to most marginalized, still have to work and live in intergenerational families).
Response to VC Lambert: Physicians in jails saying there is no real plan to get vaccines to those incarcerated, no intentional plan (just saying go to the website isn’t a plan).
Dan Satterberg (KC Prosecuting Attorney): Saying that they are working to transition to online, wishing to have technology where it should be. Know where they need to go. Emphasizing the use of the virtual platform, unclear about legally whether a trial can be virtual.
Case Backlog: historic levels of backlogged cases, threat to the efficiency of the courts. Saying they haven’t been pursuing a large amount of cases.
Response to Mr. Chair: limiting cases, emphasis on felony cases and the growth of violent offenses. Filing case right now (formula/algorithm to make best decisions): means defendant has another case in the system, long criminal history, etc.
Stephanie Sotto (HR for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office): Discussing public health measures: screening protocols, following telecommuting guidelines, signs for social distancing. Will continue to advocate for employees who are on the frontline for vaccination.
Anita Khandelwel (Director, Department of Public Defense):
Presiding Judge Jim Rogers (Superior Court): Trying virtual civil jury and bench trials, emphasizing high crime in 2020 and backlog of criminal cases.
Superior Court Public Health Plan: adopting technology and further safety guidelines for covid 19.
Accepting not everyone masks, but saying they call people on it. Everyone is doing their best to stay safe in courtrooms.
Response to Ms. K-W: wants to hear more from community leaders, how to create a better system for online trials (working on it).
Response to Mr. Chair: separation of court rooms, reporting non-maskers. Dealt directly with a judge who didn’t wear a mask. Active communication, need a safety manager and accept the need to slow work down for safety.
Response to Ms. Balducci: response line for safety questions/problems.
Judge Susan Mahoney (KC District Court): Similar safety measures as what Judge Rogers laid out.
Compliance: increased filtration, reduced capacity, telling people to distance and mask, using signs and plexiglass, sanitization. Working to have video and remote hearings whenever possible.
Emphasis on large backlog, DUIs, domestic violence, etc.
Response to VC Lambert: easy answer is yes, seeing a lot of repeat offenders (main example is DUIs). Emphasis also needs to be violent crimes.
CM Zahilay: Solutions heard, need to focus on compliance (policies don’t mean practical success), safety in courtrooms and jails, vaccinations for incarcerated populations.
Briefing No. 2021B0024: King County Search and Rescue Annual Update
Jennifer Brenes (President, KC Search and Rescue): How busy search and rescue teams were in 2020, improved tracking and data (Able to identify trends and work to address them).
Continue to refine the website.
Moving forward on the search for a formal headquarters, given a grant to help in that process.
Other Business: Update on KC Charter Amendments
Interbranch team working in collaboration with Executive Constantine. Preliminary roadmap for addressing duties of sheriff’s office and electing a new sheriff -> sending a roadmap to councilmembers. Engaging stakeholders and communities, create an advisory committee out of this group of people as well.
Roadmap anticipated legislation: ordinance describing the council’s process for conducting the structure and duties of the sheriff's office review process, ordinance describing public engagement process, ordinance implementing any changes deemed necessary for sheriff’s office duties, and a motion appointing a new sheriff.
Will discuss more in depth next week.