Monthly Archives: May 2012

Prosecutors’ ‘special inquiry’ power used often in Kitsap County

Did you know that our state’s prosecutors have the power to access private information — bank accounts and cellphone logs for instance — without any record of doing so ever being made public?

I sure didn’t. But as it turns out, the “Statewide Special Inquiry Judge Act,” has been around for more than 30 years. Last week, it was chronicled in a story by Associated Press Reporter Gene Johnson, where I learned about it.

Essentially, “special inquiry” proceedings give prosecutors a way to bring potential evidence before a judge for review, as investigators probe whether there is probable cause to charge someone with a crime.

It’s kind of like the process for obtaining a search warrant, but, as Johnson points out in the story, it doesn’t require sworn statements “or a finding of probable cause that a crime has been committed.” Furthermore, search warrants generally become a matter of public record — but special inquiry proceedings rarely, if ever, do (Johnson’s story points out one instance where they have).

After reading his story, I called Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge to find out if the special inquiry process was used here. I had noticed, in my years as courts reporter, the phrase “special inquiry” written on charging documents but never knew what it meant.

Hauge told me that the “special inquiry” use is not uncommon in Kitsap. He said that at any given time, there are 10 or so pending, mainly to seek financial records.

He said that while the process is a secret, it is overseen by a judge, and, if prosecutors find no evidence of wrongdoing, nothing goes public — and thus there’s no risk to the reputation of the person investigated.

“If no criminal charges are ever filed, the information remains under seal,” Hauge said.

Judges can also hear from frightened witnesses who are guaranteed immunity and whose testimony also remains secret. In rare cases in Kitsap, a witness is called to testify in one, Hauge said.

But there is some controversy. From Johnson’s story:

Prosecutors who use them say the proceedings are authorized by state law, make for more efficient investigations and have plenty of judicial oversight, but (a lawyer contesting the process) and other defense attorneys say they raise questions about privacy, accountability and the open administration of justice.

Hauge said the proceedings are based in the grand jury system, but — as authorized by lawmakers in 1971 — without the grand jury. There is judicial oversight and “It maintains all of the protections,” given to its witnesses and potential targets.

And where did the idea for these proceedings come from? Organized crime, as it turns out. From Johnson’s story:

The special inquiry law was a response to a corruption scandal involving the Seattle police, including the former chief, and the former King County prosecutor. When Chris Bayley was elected King County prosecutor, he organized a grand jury to investigate.

Dave Boerner, a semi-retired Seattle University criminal law professor, was a deputy King County prosecutor then. He recalled that the grand jury was cumbersome, slow and expensive, and he joined his boss in urging lawmakers to adopt a new type of proceeding — the special inquiries.

Live blog: Ostling vs. Bainbridge, May 29

CASE BACKGROUND: In the case of Ostling vs. Bainbridge Island, jurors in U.S. District court are wrestling with two conflicting viewpoints: either two Bainbridge Island police officers were just doing “the best they could under the circumstances,” in responding to Douglas Ostling’s home in October 2010, or they caused a “preventable death that would’ve been avoided if they’d followed their own policy manual.”

The case, having been ongoing three weeks now, is set to wrap up this week. Kitsap Sun Reporter Tristan Baurick will be in court Tuesday and Wednesday covering the testimony, which you can follow live below.

Court races shape up

Candidate filing week has passed. And that means we now know for sure who aspires to wear a robe on the benches of Washington’s courts.

Locally, there are candidates from the Kitsap peninsula running for judge on not only the county’s superior court bench, but also for the court of appeals and the Washington State Supreme Court. Here’s a brief guide to all of our judicial candidates:

Port Orchard lawyer Bruce Danielson, who ran a close race for county prosecutor last year and has also run for judge in Kitsap, made a surprise entrance into a race for state supreme court justice against Steven Gonzalez of Seattle, on the last day of election filing.

Gonzalez was appointed to the eighth seat aboard the nine-seat state supreme court by Gov. Chris Gregoire in November.

http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2012/jan/09/gonzalez-joins-washington-state-supreme-court/

Sheryl Gordon McCloud, who lives on Bainbridge Island and is a longtime appellate lawyer, announced far prior to filing week her intent to seek seat number nine on the state supreme court, which is being vacated by retiring justice Tom Chambers.

http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2012/mar/14/bainbridge-island-woman-to-run-for-state-supreme/

She has three opponents: Bruce Hilyer, a King County Superior Court judge, John W. Ladenburg Sr., former Pierce County executive and Richard Sanders, former state supreme court judge.

The most crowded race involving Kitsap County candidates comes in the local division of the court of appeals — the court sandwiched between the lower superior court and the higher state supreme court.

Longtime Court of Appeals Judge David Armstrong is retiring this year, creating the vacancy. Six candidates, two of which are from Kitsap, are vying to take his place.

http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2012/jan/07/longtime-kitsap-lawyer-retires-as-appeals-court/

Pamela “Pam” Loginsky, of Port Orchard, is a former Kitsap County deputy prosecutor who works for the state’s prosecutor’s association.

Thomas “Tom” Weaver, of Bremerton, is a private attorney who runs a law firm handling mostly criminal defense.

The four other candidates appear to call Thurston County home, according to the Olympian newspaper. They include, Thomas Bjorgen, who recently worked as a land use hearings examiner; Michael Lynch, head of the state attorney general’s office’s tort claims division; Jim Foley, an Olympia lawyer who has run for state supreme court before; and retired Democratic state representative Brendan Williams, also of Olympia.

Of the eight judges on Kitsap County Superior Court, seven won’t face an opponent this fall, including Kevin Hull (former Kitsap deputy prosecutor) and Steve Dixon (longtime Port Orchard attorney), both of whom were recently appointed to the seats by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The one race that is contested — the seat that Judge M. Karlynn Haberly is retiring from — has bloated to four candidates:

Jennifer Forbes, who commutes to Tacoma, where she is a partner at the law firm McGavick Graves;

Bill Houser, defense attorney currently working in the Kitsap County Office of Public Defense.

Karen Klein, a Bainbridge attorney and chief executive officer and general counsel of Silver Planet, Inc., a senior health care concierge service.

Rob MacDermid, a Navy veteran and general practice lawyer.

The Kitsap Sun will be keeping close tabs on these races in the months ahead. Stay tuned.

Mollet found guilty of rendering criminal assistance

Jurors found Megan G. Mollet, charged by county prosecutors with rendering criminal assistance to the man that killed Washington State Trooper Tony Radulescu, guilty Friday morning.

The verdict was read at approximately 11:30 a.m.

Here’s what I wrote about the attorney’s closing arguments Thursday:

In his closing arguments Thursday, Drury said that Mollet’s lies slowed investigators’ efforts to learn who Blake was and where he’d gone after dropping her off at a house on Sidney Road near Port Orchard.

“She concealed him with the intent to delay the apprehension or even to keep him from being prosecuted,” Drury says.

When first contacted by investigators, Mollet said she didn’t know Blake and claimed she had spent the night helping someone in Belfair move. But after authorities arrested her the next day, she admitted that she’d been with Blake when he shot and killed the trooper.

Morrison argued that Mollet was scared, and that failure to report a crime is not against the law. He pointed out that she never mislead investigators or attempted to provide misinformation.

Morrison also argued that police never told Mollet that they would protect her from Blake if telling the truth. Drury pointed out that she was surrounded by police when she lied.

Drury reminded jurors that Mollet testified that “I kept yelling at him and telling him he was stupid” after Blake shot Radulescu. The prosecutor said that didn’t sound like someone who was fearing for her life.

Morrison contended the pair was not Bonnie and Clyde and that prosecutors “wanted to make an example out of her.”

“Don’t hold her responsible for Joshua Blake’s murder,” Morrison says.

Live blog: Ostling vs. Bainbridge, Day 9

CASE BACKGROUND: The plaintiff Ostling family is expected to wrap up its case this week. They’re suing the city of Bainbridge Island for alleged civil rights violations against Douglas Ostling, the night the 43-year-old was shot and killed by police.

Reporter Tristan Baurick is at court live blogging the proceedings today.

Live Blog: State vs. Mollet, Day 3

CASE BACKGROUND: Today is the likely conclusion to the case of state of Washington vs. Megan Mollet. Mollet, 19, is charged by prosecutors with rendering criminal assistance to the man authorities say shot and killed Washington State Trooper Tony Radulescu in February. She is also charged with making false statements.

Mollet’s attorney says that she was under duress at the time and after the shooting.

The live blog will begin shortly.

Live Blog: State v. Mollet, Day 2

CASE BACKGROUND: Testimony begins today in the case of State of Washington vs. Megan Mollet. Mollet is charged by county prosecutors with rendering criminal assistance to the man who killed Washington State Trooper Tony Radulescu on Feb. 23. Mollet is also charged with making false statements to police.

Mollet’s attorney is arguing that she was under duress at the time of and after the shooting.

We’re in a bit of a delay this morning but court is expected to begin shortly.

Live blog: State vs. Mollet, opening statements

CASE BACKGROUND: Megan G. Mollet, the 18-year-old charged by county prosecutors with rendering criminal assistance to the man authorities say murdered Washington State Trooper Tony Radulescu, is on trial this week.

Sixty people were considered to serve on the jury considering the charges against Mollet, including making a false statement to a public servant, a gross misdemeanor, and the original rendering charge, a felony.

This afternoon will be opening statements from Kitsap County Deputy Prosecutor Tim Drury and Mollet’s attorney, Jonathan Morrison.

Live blog: Ostling vs. Bainbridge, Day 7

CASE BACKGROUND: The plaintiff Ostling family is expected to wrap up its case early this week. They’re suing the city of Bainbridge Island for alleged civil rights violations against Douglas Ostling, the night the 43-year-old was shot and killed by police.

Reporter Tristan Baurick will be in court live blogging the proceedings today. Court is set to begin at 9:30 a.m.

Reporters notebook: More trials this week

Here’s a few odds and ends for this week in the world of crime and justice.

Old prisons, from famous ones such as Alcatraz to less-known small state facilities, are becoming tourist attractions and drawing a growing number of visitors, operators say.

I wonder if our own McNeil Island will soon become an Alcatraz-like tourist trap.