Who will prosecute Coupeville criminals?

As always, cops in Coupeville will continue to nab the bad guys. The question now is: Who's going to prosecute those law-breakers?

In an early indication of what might lie in store for a budget-bruised Island County, Prosector Greg Banks recently informed Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard that his office will cease prosecuting all of the city's non-traffic misdemeanors by as early as Feb. 1. Banks cited the recent loss of a part-time legal secretary due to budget cuts as the primary reason for his decision.

The county prosecutes about 60 misdemeanors a year that are filed by the Coupeville Marshall's Office, at an average cost of $147 per case, Banks said. While the lost secretary’s position only saved the county about $15,000 dollars, Banks indicated that the shuffling of cases and restructuring he now needs to do in his office means that he is focusing only those duties the county prosecutor is mandated to perform.

"It's been an issue that's needed to be addressed in terms of how can I deal with staffing shortages," Banks said of his office's current caseload. "Unfortunately for the town of Coupeville, that's a discreet number of cases that I'm certainly not mandated to do."

Conard, in turn, said that Coupeville currently does not have the staff to prosecute its own cases, and therefore she is hoping to reach some sort of compromise with the Prosecutor's Office.

"We have had an agreement for quite a few years now in which we provide backup support of the (county) sheriff, and the county provides us with jail space and prosecution services," Conard said on Wednesday. "It seems like it's a fair trade."

In the letter he sent to Conard on Dec. 18, Banks appears to disagree with this assessment of the situation. "In 1999," he writes to the mayor, "you and I discussed the fact that Washington State law requires that municipaities reimburse counties for the cost of misdemeanor prosecutions," adding that the city of Coupeville "believed it compensated the county through 'in kind' services to other departments."

Banks also points out in the letter that state law requries an interlocal agreement between Coupeville and the county, and that "the town pay 'true and fair value' for the services received."

Conard, however, appears resolved to maintain some semblance of that service as it has existed thus far. “I expect that this will be resolved, but there’s a little bit of posturing to be done,” she said at Coupeville’s town council meeting on Tuesday. Conard added that she hopes Banks will continue to prosecute cases beyond the Feb. 1 deadline, an arrangement that Banks said he would be amenable to, at least for a while.

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