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Hauge touts transparency as reason he should be re-elected
Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge has never been afraid to make difficult choices.
Starting when he was in law school at the University of Oregon in the 1980s, and was appointed student-conduct code prosecutor.
“I didn’t win many friends with that,” Hauge said, laughing.
Hauge, 58, who is running for re-election, raised more recent controversy when the county retained famed forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz to disprove Daniel J. Mustard’s insanity plea.
Mustard was accused of stabbing his elderly neighbor to death in 2009, and entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Dietz, whose résumé includes the title of technical advisor to the long-running TV drama “Law & Order,” has appeared as an expert witness in the criminal cases against Jeffrey Dahmer, John Hinckley, Andrea Yates, the Unibomber and New York’s Zodiac Killer, among others.
He also is known for his fees.
When he testified in a 2006 appearance in Kitsap County against Wayne Hower, who later was convicted of murdering convenience store owner Al Kono, Dietz billed the county at a rate of $600 per hour.
But Hauge defends his use of Dietz.
“We worked with Dr. Dietz before in other cases and found his work to be very effective,” he said. “If a defender tries to come at him and cut holes in his theories, they will not get anywhere. This is about as serious of a case as you can get.
“Given the resources available, that was the best choice to make. We budgeted for this expenditure when the case was first charged and we had a special expert witness fund.”
Hauge, who was elected in 1994, has never faced a challenge for his position until now.
Port Orchard attorney Bruce Danielson is running against him.
Hauge said he feels he has brought transparency to his office — its performance is documented and disposition standards are published, which was not a practice under his predecessor.
Hauge said his office now can identify how many cases each of its prosecutors have pending, were disposed of, or how many were reduced from felonies “at any moment.”
But not everyone agrees that the prosecutor’s office is open enough. According to the Kitsap Sun, the county fought the newspaper to keep the hometowns of some its employees secret. It lost the case and an appeal and had to pay the newspaper about $70,000.
Hauge said the prosecutor’s office was a third-party in the lawsuit as the trial court blocked the disclosure of the documents. He said the Supreme Court later overruled that decision, but the prosecutor’s office still was responsible for fines dating back to when the lawsuit was filed under the law.
Another change that has occurred under Hauge deals with the filing of felonies. Kitsap County Deputy Prosecutor Cami Lewis, who was named as June’s employee of the month by the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners for her work on the transition, said felonies used to be filed directly with the Superior Court, where they were assigned to a deputy prosecutor and then divided with a unit.
“Now we’re filing all of the felonies in District Court and trying to determine the cases we’ll solve more quickly,” Lewis said in June. “You’re always going to have the cases that are fairly cut and dry and you’re going to resolve pretty quickly. What we’re trying to do is we’re weeding those out and resolving them quickly.”
Hauge said that is important as “we really have a 24-7 job going” because when someone is arrested, that person must appear before a judge during the following business day. He said in a straightforward felony case, that would enable the defendant to plead guilty and not appear before the judge again. Otherwise, he said that person could see the judge as many as six times.
He said efficiencies are particularly important in the prosecutor’s office, which has been cut from more than 100 employees to about 80.
“The most important change is trying to find some state stable funding so I can keep good people working here,” said Hauge, adding that victims-rights advocates and lawyers are at risk of losing their jobs. “Right now the budget structure is set up for county government — unless something dramatic changes — we’re going to be looking at laying people off for the foreseeable future.”
Hauge said budget woes also have led to the “expedited plea schedule,” which he does not like. He said that enables the perpetrator who pleads guilty in low-grade felonies, which do not include crimes against people, to have their offense reduced to a gross misdemeanor.
“If we can rectify the budget situation in any way, that’s a program we’re going to do away with,” Hauge said. “It’s just not right.”
Even with those issues, Hauge said his position remains his dream job.
Hauge, who lives in Chico with his wife, Jill, a nurse at Saint Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, has been preparing for his position since he earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in 1980. With the exception of college and four years in the Coast Guard, he has spent nearly his entire life on the West Sound.
“I learned that the county prosecutor’s office is kind of the center of action,” he said. “From that moment, I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
Perhaps the only deviation from that comes if it has been a difficult week in criminal court. On a Thursday or Friday, Hauge occasionally ventures off to drug court.
“I get a lot of satisfaction and take great pride in the work we’ve done to divert people out of justice system,” he said. “Our drug-court program is very strong.”