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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

From experience to charging defendants, Haskell and Conklin counter each other at debate

Deb Conklin, on left, and incumbent Larry Haskell, candidates for Spokane County Prosecutor, debate during the Northwest Passages Pints and Politics Candidate Forum on Thursday at the Bing Theater. Spokesman-Review reporter Emma Epperly moderated the debate.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell said voters should consider his lengthy professional experience when hitting the polls next month while his opponent, Deb Conklin, said her experience in leading and motivating people is critical to the office.

The two largely differed when answering questions Thursday night.

“The elected prosecutor supervises the office, so if you are good at leading, and if you know how to train people to do the job well, that’s much more important than being the most talented trial attorney in the county,” Conklin said.

Conklin, who is running as a nonpartisan, is a pastor who worked as a deputy prosecutor in Clallam County from 1983 to 1987.

Haskell, a Republican, had other thoughts.

“The question for the voters is, does four years of experience as a deputy prosecutor when Ronald Reagan was the president the answer to the county?” Haskell said. “Or, is somebody who’s been – with an exception of a three-year active duty stint – constantly in the law since 1998 at ever-increasing levels of responsibility, to and including, eight years as the elected?”

When asked if the prosecutor’s office overcharges defendants, Haskell said it does not and Conklin said it does. Spokane County files more felonies than larger counties, like King.

Haskell said he ran for the office on accountability and to protect the public, as well as constitutional rights. He said his office files consistent with statutes.

“We push the therapeutic courts as much as we can, but we file to protect the public,” he said.

Conklin said overcharging is one of the reasons the jail is overcrowded.

“I would suggest that we need a prosecutor who’s going to help look at the underlying causes of why people are committing crimes and figure out the most effective way to address that,” Conklin said.

Conklin said she found it fascinating that Haskell argued that he will continue to follow his same practices as prosecutor, which Conklin said has led to an increase in crime.

Haskell said being tough on crime has not led to more crime. He said the county’s population is increasing and there is a feeling across the county that “lawlessness is OK.” Haskell said he is trying to put an end to that sentiment.

“The fact is that our public speaks to me loud and clear,” Haskell said. “They want more accountability even than we are doing right now.”

“It’s interesting that Mr. Haskell wants to attribute increase in crime to all kinds of factors except his office policies,” Conklin said. “But the reality is the crime rate is going up and we know that we have a revolving door in the jail and prison system with people getting sentenced and then getting out. We need to address issues that they have before they get out.”