City Prosecutor and Public Defender: Strange Bedfellows? Not in This Town

You’d think a city’s top prosecutor, Seattle’s City Attorney Pete Holmes, teaming up with Department of Public Defense Director Anita Khandelwal, the lead public defender, would make the proverbial strange bedfellows. But that’s not the case, especially when you consider so-called crime-fighting has been anemic since Holmes came into office. Unless you’re a cop; then he’ll go after you with all he’s got.

It seems the two ostensible opponents have formed an alliance to challenge the Seattle Municipal Court Presiding Judge Ed McKenna. Why? Well, best as I can tell, for trying to do his job by addressing Seattle’s ugly lawlessness, which Holmes presides over with Her Honor, Mayor Jenny Durkan.

I know it’s odd, but apparently Judge McKenna wants to put bad guys in jail and have them stay there for longer than the token sentences Holmes requests—when he charges at all. That’s a judge’s job, isn’t it? If convicted, to give a convict the sentence he or she deserves.

But, this is not the real world where sanity prevails. This is the Seattle where social justice madness reigns. The city attorney and public defense director have issued a joint public letter chastising Judge McKenna, demanding he step down as the court’s presiding judge. According to KIRO Radio 710, Holmes and Khandelwal “accuse McKenna of violating the canons of judicial ethics.”

Hold on a sec… I have to pick myself up off the floor after that feather knocked me off my chair when I contemplated Holmes’s concern for ethics. Coming from the guy who from day one in office has manipulated enforcement of the law as if it were Play-Doh, it’s hilarious.

For example, an interim police chief once personally sent him a file containing the cases of more than two dozen chronic street criminals, requesting prosecution. The city attorney, responsible for prosecuting people who break the city’s laws, victimizing its residents, declined to prosecute them.

A former city council member, Tim Burgess, with whom I’ve had my political differences, nails the issue in his eloquent defense of Judge McKenna: “Judge McKenna is a distinguished jurist who was chosen by his peers as the presiding judge of the Municipal Court. Is this what happens when someone challenges orthodoxy? Is this a ‘warning’ to other judges not to deviate from the approved approach to crime? This and other official responses to the anger in our neighborhoods over crime and disorder has been dismissive and centered on attacking those who speak out. These are serious issues requiring rational discussion not personal attacks or dismissive attacks.”

Anyone who’s seen Eric Johnson’s superb video “Seattle is Dying,” broadcasted by KOMO TV 4, knows to what Burgess is referring when he mentions city officials being dismissive and attacking people who speak out. For a welcome change, the video also focused on the views of cops from the various Seattle Police Department (SPD) precincts.

Yes, attack is many Seattle politicians’ default setting. They didn’t respond to legitimate “homeless,” drug addiction, or crime issues the video addresses. Instead, the city hired a PR firm to attack the charges, and people making them, rather than deal with the issues. Issues caused in large part by the city’s flawed policies.

After speaking with four attorneys, KIRO Radio host Mike Lewis offered a bottom line consensus, which strikes me as a convention Holmes would violate. “[W]hen you have a problem with a judge, you settle this in private, with a meeting, you do not release a letter like this.”

But, hold on… Holmes is most concerned with ethics, right? He wouldn’t do something like… oh, I don’t know… like bring drugs into his drug-free workplace. But when you’re accustomed to picking and choosing which laws to enforce —and against whom to enforce it it’s only natural you’d also pick and choose which laws to follow.

I was fortunate to have worked closely with Judge McKenna when I served on the Community Police Team. At that time, Judge McKenna was the city attorney’s liaison to the SPD’s East Precinct. His office was located adjacent ours. I have nothing but the highest regard for a man who was an exceptionally competent legal advisor for us.

A consummate professional, he was also approachable with a witty, warm, and charming manner. His clear explanations on applying the law showed us how much he knows and cares about the law: equal justice, the rule of law, and appropriate sentencing. Issuing sentences that reflect the crime(s) committed serve as a deterrent. They’re supposed to, right? Otherwise, everyone’s wasting their time, and the court’s just helping to set up the next crime victim.

So, it didn’t surprise me when Judge McKenna fired back at the pair. After defending himself, alleging many of their accusations were false and referring to supporting evidence, he reminded Holmes and Khandelwal of their “ethical obligations to maintain the integrity of your profession.”

He pointed to American Bar Association rules, which don’t allow lawyers to make statements they know “to be false or with reckless disregard as to [their] truth or falsity concerning the qualifications, integrity or record of a judge.”

For Holmes, this is just another example of the classic leftist intimidation so often used by this city when anyone strays from doing his or her job in a manner that displeases the cabal. They must continue to implement their social justice agenda, and they don’t need some lucid judge injecting common sense (justice) into the municipal court system.

Another bottom line: Holmes and Khandelwal are not happy that Judge McKenna would prefer to see criminals receive harsher sentences. Remember, like the city attorney, the judge was elected by the people, who are beseeching their city government for relief from the chronic crime and blight surrounding them. And, unlike the city attorney, the judge has heard the pleas of the people, and he’s trying to do something about it.

Now, I don’t blame the city’s lead public defender for her position. It’s kind of in her job description to oppose harsher sentences for her clients. I also don’t blame her for jumping aboard the city attorney’s no-accountability bandwagon. After all, how many defense attorneys are lucky enough to form a leniency alliance with a traditional opponent?

Still, if I were defense counsel Khandelwal, I’d watch out for Holmes. The way the city prosecutor is attacking Judge McKenna for wanting to impose harsher criminal sentences for convicted offenders, it makes you wonder which one, Khandelwal or Holmes, is actually the city’s leading public defender.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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