'This backlog is shameful:' Seattle City Attorney defends decision to drop nearly 2,000 cases in backlog

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.

Davison and Walton-Anderson explained to members of the council’s Public Safety Committee that the decision was hard to make and necessary in order to break up the backlog of 5,000 cases they inherited from Pete Holmes, the former city attorney.

"We had to determine a prioritization of the types of cases that were left in the backlog," Davison told council members.  "This backlog is shameful."

Walton-Anderson showed a graph to council members that showed the backlog was just under 2,000 cases at the beginning of 2019, but grew to 5,000 when Davison took office in January 2022.  

During 2020 and much of 2021, trials at the Seattle Municipal Court were suspended because of the pandemic.

"There are approximately 400 cases in the backlog that have past the statute of limitations," Walton-Anderson said.  "Those cases have to be declined because we cannot take action on cases that pass the statute of limitations."

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. 

The city attorney has decided to drop prosecutions in 921 theft cases, 469 property destruction cases, and 420 trespassing cases in the backlog.

Her office will still prosecute backlogged cases that involve crimes against people, including 971 domestic violence cases, 949 Assault cases, 469 DUI’s, 454 harassment cases, and 170 that involve weapons charges.

An exception will be people who are part of the office’s "High Utilizer Offender" list.  These are offenders that use up more than the average criminal's share of court resources.

One person on that list is 38-year-old Steven Rich. He has had 73 cases referred by Seattle Police to the City Attorney’s Office for prosecution, 57 of those since 2017.  The majority, 43, involves theft.  

According to the State Patrol offender reports, Rich has been convicted of 35 gross misdemeanors, 10 misdemeanors and 25 non-felony violations.   He’s currently being held in the King County Jail on multiple theft charges with bail set at $6,700.  

Despite all the cases and convictions against him, he still gets out of jail only to commit more crimes.

"That someone who has been ignored, repeatedly, allowed to continue criminal activity and no one has said that they care enough for that person and intervene in that individual's life," Davison said, referring to people on the list in a March interview.  

Walton-Anderson told the council the office is making charging decisions 19 days on-average after receiving a case referral from Seattle Police. The goal of the office is five days.

Several members of the city council thanked the Davison and Walton-Anderson for their presentation but did not ask any significant questions of the city attorney.