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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Lawyer to assess charging process

A longtime Florida prosecutor will visit the Spokane County prosecutor’s office next month to look for ways to speed up charging decisions.

Criminal justice consultant David Bennett said Wednesday that attorney Randy McGruther will conduct the study May 3-5.

McGruther is chief assistant state attorney for a five-county Florida judicial circuit in which Fort Myers is the largest city. He supervises more than 100 assistant state attorneys – which are equivalent to deputy prosecuting attorneys in Washington counties.

Except for a two-year hiatus as a defense attorney, McGruther has worked for the 20th Judicial Circuit state attorney’s office since 1980.

Bennett said McGruther worked his way up the ranks and served as a division chief and chief felony prosecutor before becoming chief assistant to the circuit’s elected state attorney in January 2003.

Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker has designated a couple of his division chiefs to work with McGruther, “and I’m sure Mr. Tucker will make himself available,” Bennett said.

At Bennett’s suggestion, county commissioners allocated $5,000 to have McGruther look for ways to restore last year’s progress charging criminal suspects within 72 hours. Those who aren’t charged in that time must be released without supervision.

Prompt charging decisions allow judges and probation officers to divert drug and property-crime offenders into supervised programs designed to keep them out of jail and out of trouble. Reforms that were implemented with Bennett’s help resulted in timely charging decisions in up to 64 percent of cases last year. But the rate fell to a prereform level of 35 percent in December because of budget problems.

After losing seven attorneys and five support workers, the prosecutor’s office has reverted to its historic practice of focusing on violent crimes while allowing drug and property-crime suspects to be released for lack of charges.

“Hopefully, Randy comes up with some efficiencies without a huge price tag that will help us get back on track, because the current system, the status quo, is just not acceptable,” Bennett said.

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