City Attorney feuds with judges over Community Court, repeat offenders

The Seattle City Attorney's office are in a feud with judges over Community Court—a program that many judges are proud of.

Ann Davison made public an "impasse" in negotiations between her office and the court, in a letter to the judges asking that offenders that meet her office’s "high utilization" criteria be banned from appearing in Community Court.

The program is intended as an alternative to jail for new criminal offenders. These are people who have not entered into a life of crime, and have only been accused of a few low-level misdemeanor crimes.

The court was re-established in 2020 in an agreement between the judges, the King County Department of Public Defense and then-City Attorney Pete Holmes.

Holmes did not make it through the 2021 August primary, and Davison was elected in November on a platform to hold people accountable for their crimes.

"What we are trying to do in Community Court is try to evolve away from a jail-based system," said Municipal Court Judge Damon Shadid in the 2020 promotional video.

Shadid has been overseeing Community Court since the agreement was made.

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Four months into her new job as Seattle City Attorney, Ann Davison and Natalie Walton-Anderson, her chief criminal prosecutor, defended their decision in front of the City Council not to prosecute 2,000 cases.

The agreement says people accused of low-level crimes like theft, trespassing, obstruction, property destruction and car prowling have the option to go to community court first.

Davison says repeat offenders who have been accused, and in many cases convicted, of dozens of crimes should not be given that option.

"The data shows this type of intervention fails to address their activity or deter them from re-offending," Davison told FOX 13 News.

She wants the agreement to be "modified to exclude the ‘high utilizer’ criteria and to clarify how many chances individuals get to have their cases referred to Community Court."

Her office has identified 118 individuals as "high utilizers" of the criminal justice system, and 59 of them have passed through Community Court. All but one continue to offend.

This includes people like William Piccone. City prosecutors say the 51-year-old repeat offender has had 35 cases in Municipal Court over the last five years, and 22 have gone through Community Court.

Typically, nobody goes to trial or gets jail time in Community Court if they agree to go to treatment. If they complete treatment, they "graduate" and the charges don’t show up on the person’s record.

But should that be the case with repeat offenders, Davison says ‘no.’

"We must reserve [Community Court] for use for appropriate cases and individuals, and I just do not think those meeting that high utilizer initiative criteria are those individuals," said Davison.

The judges at the court declined our request for an interview, but issued a public response saying the court "remains committed to collaborating with the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and the King County Department of Public Defense to ensure a viable Seattle Community Court program."

The court says it is still evaluating the City Attorney’s proposal and will work with all sides to "create a prioritized plan for people whose needs and issues are not being addressed, and have not been addressed historically, by our criminal justice system."

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Piccone has recently been accused of assaulting the former sergeant who lead Seattle’s Navigation Team, Eric Zerr. Zerr is retired and was working security for a Seattle Home Depot when Piccone allegedly assaulted him, after Zerr stopped him from trying to shoplift a drill.

Piccone was arrested on Monday for failing to make his court dates in Bellevue and Shoreline. Court records show he repeatedly fails to appear in Seattle Municipal Court.

He’s currently in jail with a $300 bail.