Laurie’s ruling forced Hauge to take action

There’s a storm brewing between Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge and Superior Court Judge Anna Laurie, and it bodes ill for all of us.

Hauge last week announced he was considering preventing Laurie from hearing any future criminal cases in light of her recent, controversial ruling in the Aaron Williams trial.

Laurie acquitted Williams of attempted murder for shooting at Bremerton Police Officer Mike Davis at Lions Field last July. Instead, Laurie convicted Williams of a lesser charge — second-degree assault — and with harming a police dog in the fatal shooting of Buddy, Davis’ K-9 partner.

The ruling set off a firestorm of disapproval within the Kitsap community — particularly among law enforcement officials. And rightfully so.

We expect police officers to put themselves in harm’s way, sometimes literally risking their lives, to protect us. At a minimum, they at least deserve to have their sacrifices recognized and appreciated.

For Laurie, a sitting judge, to classify a fleeing suspect firing a weapon at a police officer as nothing more than second-degree assault is to declare open season on every law enforcement official.

“The decision was so unsupportable another one like it can’t be risked,” said Hauge, who tried the case himself.

The ruling infuriated Hauge, who announced he was considering invoking his right to file an affidavit of prejudice in each and every future criminal case assigned to Laurie, effectively preventing her from hearing any criminal cases at all.

The process of filing an affidavit of prejudice, by the way, is not reviewable — meaning Hauge only has to ask and the case is automatically assigned to a a different judge. The defense has the same privilege, but it is rarely used by either side.

It’s a troubling situation for a number of reasons.

On one hand, as distasteful as her verdict may have been to Hauge, Laurie was elected by the residents of Kitsap County to render such justice as she sees fit. If Laurie’s constituents are sufficiently outraged by this ruling, they’re free to impose their own remedy when she comes up for re-election.

For Hauge to, in effect, exclude Laurie from the legal process — in criminal matters, at least — could be taken as a repudiation of the will of the voters who put her on the bench in the first place.

Even worse, since Hauge tried the Williams case himself, he runs the risk of having his subsequent actions seen as retaliation against Laurie for a personal affront.

The other side of the equation, however, is that Hauge is also an elected official, answerable to the people of Kitsap County, and he has an obligation to seek and obtain the kinds of verdicts he believes his constituents demand.

If he can’t or won’t, voters can strip him of his office just they can with Laurie.

It would be one thing if Hauge was using the affidavit of prejudice process indiscriminantly to cherry pick judges more likely than Laurie to deliver a favorable outcome. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Rather, the record suggests Hauge has resorted to the tactic sparingly during his first two terms as prosecutor and is only considering it in this instance as an exceptional measure to rein in a first-term judge whose ruling flies in the face of all logic.

In the end, it’s awkward and unfortunate that Hauge should find himself in a position where he would even consider taking such an unusual step. But this is clearly not a scenario he ever envisioned or sought, and he can’t be blamed for seeking a remedy provided to him by the legal system he was elected to serve.

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