Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison announced today a new plan to address the historic backlog of cases she inherited when taking office. Today’s announcement was informed by an assessment from former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran to leverage existing resources and eliminate the case backlog by the end of the year. In February, City Attorney Davison announced criminal cases would no longer contribute to the backlog, and the office would instead aim to review referrals within five business days.
“My number one priority is improving public safety. Seattleites should feel safe walking down the street or going to the park. My early actions to implement five-day filing and create a High-Utilizer Initiative to address frequent offenders were first steps to disrupt the culture of crime in Seattle,” said City Attorney Ann Davison. “Following recommendations from former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran, today’s plan will eliminate the backlog by the end of the year. We will also improve the processes of the Criminal Division to prevent another miscarriage of justice like this backlog.”
To help eliminate the backlog, City Attorney Davison has filled nine vacant prosecutor positions since the beginning of the year, and filling support staff vacancies remains a top priority. The Criminal Division will assign additional cases to Assistant City Prosecutors in the Review and Filing Unit, as well as from additional Criminal Division work units. By combining staff resources, the City Attorney’s Office will build capacity to review approximately 300 backlog cases each month. The City Attorney’s Office will also seek a supplemental budget request to fund additional staff until the backlog is eliminated.
The City Attorney’s Office will prioritize backlog referrals in the following order:
- All crimes against persons: Domestic Violence, Assault with Sexual Motivation, and other Assault and Harassment related crimes
- Crimes involving firearms and weapons possession
- Individuals who meet the High Utilizer Initiative (HUI) criteria or any individual with three or more current referrals pending in the backlog
In order to maintain close-in-time filing for present day cases, some cases from the backlog will be declined, including those involving: Property Destruction, Theft, Criminal Trespass, and Non-DUI Traffic. Cases in the backlog that have passed the statute of limitations will also be declined. The office expects to decline over 1,921 cases that have been in the backlog for an average of 334 days, the longest case having sat for over two years.
“Being thoughtful when reviewing cases is important, but the longer a case sits unresolved, it becomes harder to prosecute. That’s not helpful to crime victims or those accused. To best serve the interests of public safety, we must prioritize resources to review our recent referrals within a reasonable amount of time,” said Criminal Chief Natalie Walton-Anderson. “Simply filing every case would not resolve the backlog – the court system cannot handle an influx of cases of this magnitude all at once. Under our new process, and with the continued dedication of our Criminal Division staff, we will address the backlog by the end of the year.”
In January of 2022, the CAO Criminal Division had a case backlog of nearly 5,000 cases, delaying justice and causing victims to wait up to two years for a response to a police referral. The backlog inherited from the previous administration was the largest in the history of the City Attorney’s Office. Due to the close in time filing deadline, which City Attorney Ann Davison announced in February, the City Attorney’s Office has already been able to reduce the backlog by 428 cases, including 119 cases identified by the High Utilizer Initiative announced in March.
In January, former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran began assisting City Attorney Davison to help identify process improvements and develop a plan to address the backlog. His first assessment resulted in the decision to announce a new close in time filing deadline for incoming cases. The second backlog assessment informed today’s plan to eliminate the backlog. Moran is one of the most distinguished prosecutors in Washington state history, having tried 35 homicide cases and led criminal offices at the local, state, and federal level.
“The actions announced today are in line with my backlog assessments and recommendations to modernize the office’s prosecutorial approach,” said former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran. “The public expects, demands, and deserves more, and the backlog – the likes of which I have not seen before in my 30-year career – that City Attorney Ann Davison inherited cannot occur again. The City Attorney’s Office staff are dedicated professionals who care deeply about the public they serve, the mission, and the role they play in accomplishing it. With their new direction and leadership, I am optimistic that they will accomplish the hard task of eliminating the backlog.”
To avoid overwhelming the criminal justice system with a onetime influx of cases, the City Attorney’s Office will coordinate with Seattle Municipal Court (SMC), the Seattle Police Department (SPD), and the Department of Public Defense (DPD) regarding the expected number of monthly cases and regularly update partners on the progress of the plan for the backlog.
In her first 100 days City Attorney Ann Davison:
- Fully staffed the Criminal Division
- Announced “Close In Time” filing to allow the timely prosecution of cases
- Developed the High-Utilizer Initiative to identify and prosecute frequent offenders
- Hired former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran to assess the Criminal Division
- Established a first of its kind data and transparency team at CAO