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Washington state Senate issues subpoenas on inmate releases

OLYMPIA – Senate Republican leaders voted Tuesday to subpoena records from the Department of Corrections in their effort to mount an independent investigation on computer problems that led to thousands of inmates being released early.

The Senate Rules Committee, which controls the calendar of floor activity in the chamber, voted 13-7 on a mostly partisan split to subpoena records from the department and the governor’s office. They are the first such demands to be issued by the Legislature since 1987.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said the aim of the Senate Law and Justice Committee is to determine how the problems happened and prevent them from happening again. The department has said problems with computer software led to some 3,200 inmates being released before they had served their complete sentences; at least two deaths have been traced to inmates who should still have been in prison.

“No one is criticizing the governor for employing his own investigators,” Schoesler said. “The governor should be investigating, but so should the Legislature.”

Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, agreed the Legislature should “seek the truth” but contended the subpoenas are premature.

“The act of issuing a subpoena signals guilt and an unwillingness to comply,” she said. The governor’s office has said it would deliver the documents the Law and Justice Committee requested by next week, Nelson added.

But the department delayed legislators’ request for documents by telling the committee it had sent its request to the wrong office nine days after it was received, Schoesler said.

Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said Senate Republicans are subpoenaing the same documents his office is processing from their earlier requests. “There is no information to be gained through a subpoena that isn’t already available through normal public records procedures. As the governor said last week, it seems more likely that two former federal prosecutors are more likely to get to the bottom of this than one political party in an election year.”

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat who presides over the Rules Committee and voted no on the resolution, signed the subpoenas after the meeting ended. They’ll be delivered to Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke and Nick Brown, the governor’s legal adviser, Wednesday morning by the State Patrol, Owen said.

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