July 3, 2008 · Updated 4:53 PM
When Steve Selby went to work Monday morning, he was greeted by his boss and a cardboard box.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks fired Selby, his chief criminal prosecutor, after Selby announced in a no-holds-barred press release and interview last Friday that he was running for prosecutor in Novembers election.
A couple of hours after getting the axe, Selby gave a dramatic and angry speech before the Island County commissioners, urging them not to allow Banks to replace him quickly. He was backed by several members of law enforcement and county government, including Sheriff Mike Hawley.
He fired me for exercising my right of free speech under the Constitution of the United States of America, Selby said. He did it for the sake of being politically expedient, to get me out of the way and to try to starve me.
Banks fired back, saying that Selby left him no choice.
I am sure he anticipated me firing him, he said, and Im sure he anticipated his speech.
Selby, a 54-year-old Greenbank resident, intends to run against Democrat Banks as a Republican in what is likely to be a long, heated campaign. Banks is coming to the end of his second four-year term as prosecutor and is seeking a third. Selby has been chief criminal deputy since Banks came into office, plus he has an additional 18 years as a prosecutor and manager in the Navy and a prosecutors office in California.
Selby has a long list of grievances against Banks, alleging an intimidating management style, lack of experience as a prosecutor and an unwillingness to take on a full caseload. Perhaps most importantly, Selby claims he has the support of those in the countys law and justice community, including most of Banks own staff.
Anonymous sources inside the prosecutors office agree with Selby, though they dont have his sense of bitterness towards Banks.
Leslie Tidball, a community prosecutor for the city of Everett, worked for Banks as a deputy prosecutor for about two years. Shes a life-long Democrat and doesnt have any axes to grind, but she said she wholeheartedly supports Selby.
I think there are two main issues with Banks, she said. The morale of the people who work there and his relationship with law enforcement. ... Im not used to working in a situation where you never get praise. Banks management style is to constantly be critical.
In contrast, Tidball said she enjoyed working with Selby.
At the heart of Banks problematic relation with law enforcement, Tidball said, is his feud with Sheriff Hawley and his administration, though she said its not all Banks fault. There needs to be a partnership between prosecutors and law enforcement, she said. Hopefully with changes in the prosecutors office and sheriffs office, that will come true for Island County.
In an interview, Banks said he felt betrayed by Selby, who hes given wide latitude and great responsibility as chief deputy.
My chief deputy has to be a person whos loyal to me and I have to trust completely, he said. A CO cannot have an EO following him around, undermining everything he does, using military lingo for commanding officer and executive officer.
Banks pointed out that Selby is the contact person between the office and law enforcement. If we have a shattered relationship with police, Banks said, I wonder what hes been saying about me.
Banks said Selby was dishonest with him about his intent to run, though Selby denies this.
First thing Monday morning, Banks handed Selby a termination letter, set down a cardboard box and asked him to leave in 15 minutes. Selby lost his temper and offered Banks some unkind words.
The termination letter pointed out that Selby never told Banks he was running. Banks learned that when a News-Times reporter called him last Friday.
It is appropriate protocol for one in your position to resign voluntarily as soon as he has made the decision to run for the office of his superior, Banks wrote in the letter. Apparently you made that decision some time ago. Your approach has denied us the opportunity to part on friendlier terms in a professional manner.
Monday afternoon, Selby said he was in a state of disbelief and was worried about how he was going to support his family. He has a wife, two kids and no job at least for another nine months.
While Banks suggested he could become a criminal defense attorney, Selby said he was not interested in defending criminals. Selby said he wants to continue putting bad guys behind bars.
I know it sounds corny, but I think its the right thing to do, he said. I always thought it was the right thing to do. I like to think Im the guy on the white horse.
Selby admits that he was recruited as a candidate by members of the Republican party and that he was not their first choice, though he claims police, deputy prosecutors and others also urged him to take on Banks.
If he wouldnt treat people that way, if he would do his share of work, Selby said, none of this would be necessary.
When asked about the possibility of a lawsuit for being fired, Selby said hes exploring his options.
In the meantime, Banks said he has assigned Selbys cases to himself and other deputy prosecutors. There are some serious cases, including child rape, vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, arson and assault. Hes asked deputy prosecutors interested in the position to talk to him about it.
Commissioner Mac McDowell said the commissioners arent going to get in the way of allowing Banks to find a replacement quickly.
Truly each elected official is his own boss, he said.