Seattle City Attorney drops nearly 2,000 cases to ease backlog

Seattle’s new City Attorney, who ran on a ‘tough on crime’ platform, will not be prosecuting nearly 2,000 cases in an effort to ease a case backlog. 

Ann Davison said she inherited a backlog of 5,000 cases and an office that was short-staffed on attorneys. In an effort to provide swifter justice for both the accused and victims, she dropped backlogged cases that don’t involve crimes against a person.

"It is with a heavy heart that I made this decision," she said. 

She had hired former US Attorney and Trump appointee Brian Moran to triage the case backlog, and together, they decided to drop 1,921 cases that have been backlogged for an average of 334 days.   

Davison said the longest a case has sat in the backlog has been there for over two years.

"I acknowledge that we are leaving some things unaddressed because when there is not timely justice for the victims," she said. 

The backlog of cases that won’t be prosecuted includes property destruction, theft, criminal trespass,  non-DUI traffic offenses and cases that have passed the statute of limitations.

Cases that will go forward are all crimes against people, including domestic violence, assault with sexual motivation and other assault and harassment-related crimes. Also included are crimes involving firearms, driving under the influence and individuals who meet the "High Utilizer Initiative" criteria.

Davison said she’s hired nine criminal attorneys and needed to drop the cases in order to meet a "close in time" filing decision within five days of receiving a case from Seattle Police.

"We want to restore real-time accountability within our misdemeanor criminal justice system here, and I think the way to do that is to keep our resources focused on present referrals," she said.

When asked if her department is making good on the filing decision pledge, she said: "we are not perfect and no one will ever be, but we are close and staying on target right within the area".

The King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg handles more cases, involving serious felonies and has a larger staff of attorneys.  He also has an online dashboard, so the public can see the number of open case filings his staff is dealing with.

The number of open cases has been declining from a high point of 6,130 in March 2021 to 4.818 in April 2022.  Before COVID put a halt to trials in early 2020, the average open-case count was 3,270.

Davison said her staff has established a first-of-its-kind data and transparency team at the City Attorney’s Office and is working toward creating a similar dashboard.

"The dashboard at the county prosecutor’s office is informative and that is our goal to provide information like that to the public," she said.

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