August 12, 2010 in Opinion

Editorial: Bugbee has skills to lead prosecutors

 

In 2006, with the Otto Zehm controversy raging, The Spokesman-Review gave Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Tucker a tepid endorsement because his opponents were so weak. This time the field is stronger.

Tucker rode to office in 1998 on a wave of disapproval over the heavy-handed management of his predecessor. Unfortunately, his hands-off style has caused the pendulum to swing in the other direction. He does not call press conferences to get ahead of controversial matters. He does not use the office to educate the public on why prosecutions are handled a certain way. Like it or not, public perception of the office matters, but he stays silent.

Tucker delegates a lot of authority to supervisors and describes a typical day as handling the problems and questions brought to him by his deputies. But there is more to leadership than putting out fires. The issue of not charging suspects within the 72-hour time frame set by law has festered for years. But it took a consultant hired by county commissioners to spotlight the problem and spark solutions.

Chris Bugbee was a deputy prosecutor from 1996 to 2002, prosecuting major crimes and drug felonies. Now a respected defense attorney, he has experience from both sides of the legal table. He says he will use the office to listen to and educate the public. He wants to leave no doubt who is in charge and who is accountable. He acknowledges that the office would have lost some positions regardless of who was running it, but that he would fight harder for the resources needed to charge suspects in 72 hours. He correctly notes that resolution of that issue will involve active participation and coordination with the courts, public defenders, probation office and law enforcement. He points to Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich as the model for public availability and for advocating for an office at every opportunity.

Bugbee’s endorsements include the Spokane County Sheriff’s Association and the Spokane Police Guild. More telling, he picked up 18 of the 44 deputy prosecutors who voted in a union poll, an impressive showing considering he hasn’t worked there for eight years and often opposes them as counsel.

Dave Stevens has worked for nine years as deputy prosecutor under Tucker. He has run unsuccessfully for state Legislature and judgeships. He has been a hardworking and effective prosecutor of domestic violence and property crimes. However, we question his administrative skills to excel above the legal trenches. He got no votes from his fellow deputies.

Frank Malone, the lone Democrat in the race, boasts a master’s degree in business administration, but his opponents have more experience in criminal prosecution. His endorsements seem to stem more from his party affiliation than his criminal justice expertise.

Jim Reierson has run for this office and others before. He is a deputy prosecutor in Kootenai County. He has not impressed us as a person who can command the respect needed to lead a 140-person department.

Ultimately, this race is a referendum on a 12-year incumbent. We’ve heard many complaints from a variety of sources that Tucker is lacking in leadership. Now, with stronger foes in the mix, it’s time to give the job to someone else.

We recommend Bugbee.

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