Tag Archives: Kitsap County Prosecutor

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: Kitsap County Traffic Court

THE BACKGROUND: A deputy prosecutor will stand in on behalf of the state in Kitsap County’s traffic court for the first time this afternoon.

The move was a part of Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge’s plan to boost revenues during the county’s budget discussions last fall. He told the county commissioners having a prosecutor to help present the case of the police who wrote the ticket could lead to about $148,000 in additional revenue.

Up until now, Hauge told the commissioners that “if you know the magic words to say,” tickets would be dismissed without an argument from prosecutors — because no prosecutor was ever in court.

Another program aimed at relicensing motorists charged with suspended driving — before almost always reduced to a $124 ticket — also begins today. Drivers will now face a $250 fine under a so-called “diversion” program. The good news for defendants, however, is it is a pathway to becoming licensed again, prosecutors argued. That program could bring in more than $356,000, Hauge argued to commissioners.

The programs only affect Ktsap County District Court — not in courts in Poulsbo, Port Orchard, Bremerton or Bainbridge Island.

A story about the first day of the two programs will be posted later today.

Hauge Responds to the ‘Narrative’ About Gun Club Lawsuit

On Sunday, Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge wrote what he called “my response to the ‘narrative’ that has been created about recent actions by my office.” He posted a five-point post to his Facebook page.

On Sunday, we ran two pieces about the county’s lawsuit against the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club, which you can read here and here. Also, here’s a link to our overall coverage of the suit. And some of the points he makes were already addressed in a previous story.

Here’s Hauge’s post:

Please consider this my response to the “narrative” that has been created about recent actions by my office.  I am responsible for those actions and it is fair that I be judged on them.  However, the basis for that judgment should be fact—not a construct created to further a political agenda.

Fact One:  I am not anti-gun.  No one has asked me about this directly.  The truth is that I own many firearms, mostly handguns, and have shot them regularly since I was a child.  I hunt occasionally and practice with my handguns as often as I can.  Usually I use the indoor range at “The Marksman” in Puyallup.

Fact Two: I have no personal grudge against Marcus Carter.  Indeed, before we learned he was manufacturing machine guns I regularly assisted him in his firearm safety classes.  I taught the lesson about firearms and the law.  In those classes, I tried to make this one point above all: The constitution of the State of Washington unambiguously grants its citizens the right to bear arms in defense of themselves and their homes; however, that right carries with it great responsibilities.  The statutes of the State of Washington spell out the rules for the possession and use of firearms.  My office will support lawful use and respond immediately and firmly to unlawful use.

Fact Three:  My office has not repeatedly prosecuted Mr. Carter.  There is one pending action.  Twice Kitsap County Superior Court judges, using different reasons, have prevented us from taking the case to a jury.  Twice, the next higher court, the Court of Appeals, has said they were wrong and sent the case back for trial.  There is nothing extraordinary about our office appealing a ruling of the superior court.  Judges can make mistakes, and an appeal is the mechanism to correct their errors.  We are pursuing this not because I hate guns, but because machine guns are inherently dangerous and we think the law is clear.  A local judge has blocked the trial yet again on a new theory raised just before trial.  We have again appealed and expect the case to be sent back for trial sometime this year.  But appellate courts keep their own schedule; that’s why it’s taken so long.  We will pursue this prosecution.  There is no question that Mr. Carter manufactured and possessed a machine gun.  The reports are part of the public record.  There is a video tape of the weapon firing on full auto that no news agency has ever asked to see.  My office cannot ignore this clear violation of the law.  To do so would be to effectively authorize the manufacture and possession of machine guns in our community.  If that is to be the rule, it should be established by the legislature or the courts.  Thus far, the court that counts, the Court of Appeals, has agreed with us.

Fact Four:  Our goal has never been to close the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club.  Our position is set forth in a letter we sent to the club in May of this year.   We’ve provided more than one copy of this letter to every local news  outlet, but no one has seen fit to print it.  It is posted on our portion of the County’s website http://www.kitsapgov.com/pros/krrc.htm ( Complaint, beginning on pg. 72).  It is an attachment to the core document in this suit, the Complaint.  In summary our position has been that we have credible information that the Club may have violated variety of permitting, zoning, and environmental laws.  It is our job to address those concerns.  We have asked the Club’s cooperation in resolving these issues but received no helpful response.  Very recently, credible information came to us that there may be significant safety concerns.  By all reports, the range officers at the club do an outstanding job.  Every shooter is made to follow appropriate procedures.  But the day-to-day operation of the ranges is not the issue.  The concerns arise from the layout of the ranges themselves.  There are standards in the shooting industry to address these issues.  They exist to ensure peaceful co-existence of gun clubs with their neighbors.  The Club’s facilities have expanded beyond those that existed when it was “grandfathered” into the current zoning code.  This expansion makes those industry standards relevant.  Like the machine gun case, my office would be giving its approval to what might well be law violations affecting public safety if we ignored this situation.

Fact Five:  The land use action concerning the club did not spring up just in time for me to use it in a political campaign.  The dialog between the regulatory agencies, the Club, and the surrounding property owners has been going on for years http://www.kitsapgov.com/pros/krrc.htm (The Mount Document, photos 1994-2009 pgs 20, 67, 71 and 73).  It was filed now because the Club leadership has refused to engage in that dialog in any kind of constructive manner.   Indeed, it is just as reasonable to assume that the Club orchestrated this crisis to coincide with the upcoming election.  As I’ve said before, I certainly recognize that I’m not doing my reelection campaign any good by filing this action now.

Prosecutors do not—and should not—have the authority pick and choose among the laws they are sworn to enforce.  We do indeed have to make choices about how to expend our resources, but those choices should be guided by principle.  I have been advised that the politically expedient thing to do would be to look the other way and in effect authorize the manufacture of machine guns and the violation of our community’s environmental and zoning protections.  Certainly that’s the consensus in the blogosphere.  But that’s not how it works.  The prosecutor’s first duty is not to hew to any party line or even to get reelected.  The prosecutor’s job is to enforce the law as best they can.  That’s all I’m trying to do.

Russ Hauge

Kitsap’s Prosecutor, Coroner Will Have Election Opponents

Two elected leaders got opponents in this fall’s elections in the last two days of filing week. Bruce Danielson, a South Kitsap attorney who ran for superior court judge in 2004 and 2008, will challenge Russ Hauge for the job of Kitsap County prosecutor.

It’s the first time Hauge has faced an opponent since dethroning C. Danny Clem in 1994 Here’s the profile I wrote about Hauge in 2006, when he last ran for the post.

And in a surprise Friday filing, Kitsap County Coroner Greg Sandstrom garnered an opponent in Pete Favazza. Favazza last ran for the Public Utility District Commission in 2008.

Sandstrom has overseen the coroner’s office’s transition into a new building during his current term. Here’s the profile I wrote about him in 2006, when he ran unopposed.