Seattle City Attorney aims to speed up case filing decisions, help domestic violence victims

Seven months into her job as Seattle City Attorney, Ann Davison and her staff are claiming success on something she said her predecessor Pete Holmes did not do – making timely decision on cases being referred for prosecution by the police department.

In City Attorney’s Criminal Division second quarter report, it said a filing decision one year ago during the Holmes’ administration had a median of 298 days. It said her staff has cut it down to a median of 3 days, a 98% drop.

"That’s even hard for me to fathom," said Davison. "What we are telling victims is something occurred, we see it, we are charging, we are responsive and to police, we are responsive."

A filing decision means the City Attorney has made a decision to file charges against someone, declined to file charges or is referring the person to a pre-trial diversion program.

"We are making real-time accountability to come back in our misdemeanor system," she said.

The report said filing decisions have also been made on 900 of the backlog of 5,000 cases she inherited. To be fair, the pandemic shut down the municipal court system for lengthy periods of time and the case backlog grew.

One advantage for the ‘just-in-time filing decisions’ she said are victims of domestic violence, are more apt to participate in the court process.

She said the City Attorney declined to pursue 25% to 27% of domestic violence cases, because causes had been delayed so long, the victim chose not to participate. 

She said the decline rate has improved to 8%.

"Some of the cases passed the statute of limitations and expired, some would be so old that witnesses said ‘why should I bother?’ and some of the contact info was so old we couldn’t get in touch with them," she said.

But the faster pace of filing decisions doesn’t mean more people are being sent to jail.

The King County Jail system has not been accepting bookings of non-violent offenders unless there are special circumstances. Since the City Attorney only deals with misdemeanor cases—considered to be less serious than felony cases, which are handled in Superior Court—the jail has limited bookings to include:

  • Fourth-degree assault
  • Fourth-degree domestic violence assault
  • Fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation
  • Alcohol-related traffic
  • Communication with a minor
  • Stalking
  • Violations of a no-contact order
  • Violations of a restraining order
  • Unlawful use of weapons to intimidate another
  • Other firearms-related misdemeanors

Currently, 84 people are in jail awaiting trial on cases prosecuted by the City Attorney, and only six people convicted in Seattle Municipal Court are serving their sentence.

"We are dealing with some unprecedented challenges in our justice system," the appointee designate to head up the King County Department of Juvenile and Adult Detention told King County Council members on Wednesday.

Allen Nance had been running the juvenile division until he was named in May by King County Executive Dow Constantine to lead the department following the retirement of John Diaz.

During a confirmation hearing he told council members about the measures the jail has taken to combat its staffing issues.

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"We have to find ways to consolidate, so we were able to move some folks we had in custody in Kent to the correctional facility in Seattle, so we could consolidate some staff," he said. "I’m committing to you all today that we will continue to work on these problems, because we are committed to solving them."

The report does not show a dramatic increase the number of cases where charges are filed, despite faster filing decisions. It does show the City Attorney deferring more cases to alternatives like Community Court, Mental Health Court, Veteran Court and pre-trail diversion.