Indivisible--Haskell and the SRLJC
Prosecutor Haskell makes a bid to silence voices he doesn't want to hear.
NOTE: Action item near the bottom.
Shawn Vestal wrote a piece that appeared in the April 21 Spokesman entitled, “Instead of just ignoring calls for change, prosecutor wants to shut them down:”
The single most important thing to know about the proposal to slash community voices and reformers from the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council may be this: The prosecutor, sheriff and police chief all support it.
When leaders want to tune out the nettlesome voices of the community – when they want to “simplify” the messy, drawn-out, frustrating chorus of contrary opinions – that’s an excellent sign that those voices should continue to be heard, and especially those voices who are calling for the examination of racial inequities.
Larry Haskell, the elected Spokane County Prosecutor, is part of a local group in favor of spending our money on an expensive new jail. Meanwhile, he is hard at work filling jails: he files more felony cases in Spokane County than prosecutors file in King County, a county with four times the population. Haskell is also notable on the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council (SRLJC) for his stalwart opposition to efforts to promote racial equity. He called a proposal in support of racial equity “unconstitutional,” echoing white supremacist claims that attempts to level the playing field (equity) are un-American and a threat to the “equality” extolled in our founding documents. The colors of Haskell’s flag are plain to see. (Think of a local version of Nixon’s and Reagan’s “Law and Order” and “War on Drugs” campaigns that led the U.S. to the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world—a mockery of national anthem’s declaration that we’re the “Land of the Free.”)
Haskell’s ideological argument against racial equity flies in the face of the Mission Statement of the SRLJC. (The BOLD is mine.)
The mission of the Spokane Regional Law & Justice Council is to analyze and make recommendations to local jurisdictions on issues related to promoting a racially equitable, cost-effective regional criminal justice system that builds a healthy and safe community by fostering the best possible outcomes for the community, including reducing recidivism and increasing system collaboration.
The Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council (SRLJC)1 was formed by a Spokane County Commissioners’ Resolution in 2014. The county commissioners were acting on the recommendation of the “Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission,” a group formed in 2012. The “Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission” consists of just three people, “The Honorable James Murphy (retired)”, former Spokane County Superior Court Judge (26 years); Phillip Wetzel, a longtime criminal defense attorney; and James McDevitt, former U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington. Those three represent decades of experience working within the justice system of Spokane County.
In 2014, Murphy, Wetzel, and McDevitt, speaking as the “Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission,” released their recommendations for improving the criminal justice system in Spokane, A Blueprint for Reform. One of many recommendations of that document was to form the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council (SRLJC). As Mr. Vestal points out, Prosecutor Haskell has firmly dragged his feet on most of the recommendations for reform made by Murphy, Wetzel, and McDevitt. Their Blueprint-for-Reform-Status-Update-October-2020 (See page 21, 5.6 Prosecution) specifically criticizes Haskell:
Several agencies reported to us that the number of felony filings has strained the system. The ECR Courts, Therapeutic Courts, trial courts, jail, and public defenders have been overwhelmed by the number of filings. Spokane County files more felony cases than King County.
Prosecutor Haskell has reported to us that he has no choice but to file felony cases when the probable cause is presented.
Ignoring that critique, Prosecutor Haskell proposes to trim the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council (SRLJC) from 26 to 13, effectively silencing the voices Haskell doesn’t want to hear. Haskell’s proposal for revision of the SRLJC is precision cherry-picked from among the recommendations made in the Blueprint-for-Reform-Status-Update-October-2020 [specifically 5.1(2)]—recommendations he has otherwise steadfastly resisted.
The Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council (SRLJC) is another of the many local governmental groups that consist of officials of both the county and city governments. (Consider a recent example that has been in the news, the Spokane Regional Board of Health District’s Board of Health.) Look over the current composition of the SRLJC (click). Senior Spokane County Commissioner Al French serves as chair. Counting Mr. French and his two other junior Commissioners there are six elected Spokane County officials on the SRLJC, three representatives from city governments, and only four “Community Representatives.” The other (roughly twelve) of the twenty-something members are or represent police, prosecutors, judges, and the court system.
An excellent article by Colin Tiernan in the April 4th Spokesman entitled “Proposal to dissolve Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council would silence voices for reform, multiple members say” provides some clarity on Haskell’s proposal:
Under the proposal, the four at-large community representatives would lose their seats, as would a host of local elected officials, including the county commissioners, Spokane County public defender, Spokane mayor and a Spokane council member.
Some Law and Justice Council members said the smaller committee wouldn’t work much on reform or racial equity. Instead, it would mainly deal with interactions between local jails and the state prison system.
ACTION ITEM: The final say on Haskell’s proposal falls to the three Spokane County Commissioners. I encourage you to email or write to each of them and express opposition to Haskell’s resolution. You might also ask them when this issue will come up for their consideration. (Their Agendas and Minutes webpage [click to check for yourself] is hopelessly out-of-date.)
Josh Kerns: Jkerns@spokanecounty.org
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. There is a neat little video referenced on the SRLJC’s page on the Spokane County website that provides some orientation I lacked.
I am embarrassed to learn how clueless about our local governance I’ve been. For decades the only attention I have paid has been to vote, often based on scant appreciation of the complexity of the jobs for which candidates were running. I certainly did not understand how the City of Spokane and Spokane County officials interact on dozens of committees. If my cluelessness is representative, it means that a relatively small group of citizens newly paying more attention can have an outsized effect on the actions of elected officials who have become accustomed to working out of sight and out of mind of the voters who elected them.