Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eastern Washington will be stationed full time at the courthouse in Richland, the region’s top lawyer announced Friday.
“What we need to do is to make sure we’re serving everyone,” Vanessa Waldref, U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, said Friday during a news conference announcing the opening of the office in the Tri-Cities. “How can we most efficiently, and effectively, bring the most impactful cases to build a safe and strong Eastern Washington community?”
The office will hire two new positions, known as assistant United States attorneys, who will handle cases out of an office in the Richland federal courthouse. Law enforcement and legal representatives said the new office would lead to better legal services for Franklin, Walla Walla and Benton counties.
“This is an important day, not only for the legal and law enforcement community, but also an important day for the people of the Tri-Cities and the surrounding areas,” said U.S. Court of Appeals Circuit Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr.
Mendoza, who was appointed earlier this year to his seat on the appellate bench, and Senior U.S. District Court Judge Edward F. Shea, said the judiciary had been pushing for decades to establish an office in the Richland courthouse. That would ensure prosecutors were close at hand and could more easily aid the administration of justice in a booming population center.
“I thought it was critical for the growth of this facility, and for the Eastern District of Washington, to have a U.S. attorney’s office here,” Shea said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which serves as prosecutor in federal criminal cases and represents the government in civil actions involving federal agencies, already has offices at the courthouses in Spokane and Yakima, Waldref said. Having dedicated attorneys living and working in the Tri-Cities will reduce the travel costs and other expenses incurred in preparing for the roughly 500 hearings that take place annually in that courthouse, Waldref said.
“We have attorneys from our Spokane office driving five hours a day to cover hearings in the Tri-Cities,” she said. “This is really saving so much time and building critical relationships.”
Kennewick Police Chief Chris Guerrero said his officers working on task forces with federal authorities will now be able to talk directly to a prosecutor, rather than having to schedule a virtual meeting.
“That only improves the justice system for our area,” Guerrero said.
Hiring advertisements for the two U.S. attorneys who will be working in Richland were posted Friday, Waldref said. The Justice Department is expected to save money, even with the additional hires and improvements to an area the office already leases in the courthouse for trial preparations, Waldref said. That’s based on the savings in travel and other expenses possible because of the new office.
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