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Seattle City attorney to expedite filing decisions on all new cases to ease 5,000-case backlog

Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison is making the change to help chip away at the roughly 5,000-case backlog in the office's criminal division.

SEATTLE — In an effort to ease the criminal divisions 5,000-case backlog, Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison announced her office will make filing decisions on all incoming cases within five business days of receiving the case from the police.

This means that, effective immediately, the city attorney will decide within five business days whether to file charges or not in any new cases.

The effort is a part of Davison’s plan to chip away at the criminal division’s backlog of roughly 5,000 cases that has grown over the last three years.

Davison also assured in a Monday morning release that the plan is the most effective way to “immediately tackle crime” in the city.

Davison said she would no longer put cases at the “back of the line,” adding, “the longer a case sits, the harder it is to prosecute. Witnesses move or become unavailable, forget, or don't want to participate.”  

Her office primarily handles misdemeanors in the criminal department, including assaults, theft, and property destruction. 

Seattle Councilmember Andrew Lewis said he agreed with the move, having worked in the City Attorney’s Office, and is now representing downtown. But he also said the issues are complex. It still doesn’t deal with the existing backlog, or the felony crimes handled by the King County Prosecutor’s office.   

“The amount of commercial burglary right downtown is very high,” he said, noting COVID-19-related health issues in the jail system are another factor.  The municipal court is remanding people to come back two months later right now to serve a jail sanction.”

Previously, the city attorney’s office was putting any new cases to the end of the backlog line.

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“The best way to interrupt crime happening on the streets today is by quickly and efficiently moving on the cases referred to us by the Seattle Police Department,” Davison said. “I am confident that we have made the operational changes necessary to support this action and I know my attorneys and staff will work hard to make sure we meet these new filing deadlines in service to our city.”

The city attorney’s criminal division prosecutes misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and traffic infractions. Cases prosecuted include DUIs, misdemeanor assault and domestic violence, misdemeanor theft and trespassing.

The decision to expedite filing decisions comes about a month after Davison announced she’d be reaching out to former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran to help clear the criminal division’s backlog as well as boost hiring and advise on immediate criminal priorities.

“My recommendation and assessment is just the first step to solving the City Attorney’s Office case backlog,” Moran said in a statement. “The office will immediately stop adding to the number of cases that need to be filed and can address the nearly 5,000 cases that are waiting for review.”

The decision comes as certain crime levels reach new heights in the city, especially violent crime. Moran is expected to continue his assessment of the criminal division’s backlog and provide further recommendations.

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