Last week, we had all the candidates for city council and city attorney in to the Cola offices for an endorsement interview. We’re publishing edited and condensed transcripts of those interview in the runup to our endorsements on Monday.
Editor’s Note: This interview with City Attorney Tom Carr and challenger Pete Holmes was originally published last Monday.
Here's a partial transcript, along with the few questions we were able to shoehorn in between the candidates' testy exchanges.
PubliCola: Pete, you've talked a lot about what you don't like about Tom. But can you give us three specific examples of things you would come in and do on Day One that are different from what your opponent is doing?
Holmes: The very first thing, of course, is depending on how much time we have for transitioning after the election, is to get to know everyone in the office, and I mean every single employee. ...
I'd replace the head of the criminal division (Bob Hood). There are a couple of things that he and Tom engineered together that I think show a lack of judgment ... The fact that he's been in there going on 12 years—he was there under Mark Sidran—means that we haven't had a fresh look at that division.
Number two, I've said... no more criminal prosecutions for simple possession of marijuana. It's not something that Seattle voters want, and it's not justified under current policy.
Lastly, I'm going to make it clear .... that we're going to not leave any stone unturned in trying to avoid construction of a new jail in the city.
PubliCola: Those sound like your campaign talking points. What we're looking for is something specific: Tom Carr is doing this as city attorney; I'm going to come in and do this.
Holmes: I believe we need to seriously look at moving the domestic violence advocates out of the city attorney's office. Now, I haven't identified a [nongovernmental organization] to put them, so there are details that need to be worked out, so it's not a foregone conclusion that it's going to happen.
PubliCola: Tom, when we've asked you in the past if you had any regrets about Operation Sobering Thought (a crackdown on bars and clubs for overserving customers and serving minors that did not result in a single conviction), you said you didn't. Do you have any regrets about any decision you've made as city attorney?
Carr: I regret the timing of Operation Sobering Thought.
A lot of what I regret is that I don't get out there in the media. Here's a perfect example. After, what, six years, we won a decision allowing the [Office of Professional Accountability] Review Board [which oversees the Seattle Police Department's internal misconduct investigations] to get access to unredacted [misconduct] files. I did that.
Pete got out a press release the first day announcing that he'd won. So the stories were spun he'd won. He had nothing to do with it. The decision had my name on it. And it demonstrates that I fight for things and I keep fighting for things until we get the right answer. I did. And because I don't really have a media strategy, I didn't answer press calls until two days after he was already trumpeting a win for himself. I'm not used to that. I'm not political. So sometimes I regret that I wasn't more political.
PubliCola: Those seem like backhanded "regrets."
Carr: They are. They are, because I work really hard at doing the right thing.
PubliCola: Was it really a success, though? In your mind, did Operation Sobering Thought do anything?
Carr: The message I heard was that things calmed down for a while. ... And we tried before Operation Sobering Thought. And a lot of the response was, once it's outside the bar, it's not our problem. And we needed to convince people that if you're serving minors, you're serving people so much that they're falling down drunk and they go out and fight on the street, then it's your problem too.
PubliCola: Given that the city has so many problems, why focus so intensely on overserving and underage drinking? Are those really the highest priorities for the city attorney's office?
Carr: I couldn't disagree with you more. I wish I spent less time on this. In that same time, I built community court, I added to the domestic violence unit, I arranged for the drug market initiative, I spend my time doing a lot of things. But the reason that we conceived Operation Sobering Thought, as you know, was that we were having precinct-wide callouts in the West Precinct... to handle bar closing. And [when cops are doing that], they're not doing anything else.
PubliCola: Pete, do you want to respond to any of that?
Holmes: To say you have no spin machine, you spun that just then.
Carr (laughing): But it's a week later, Pete! You got out there the first day.
Holmes: You're spinning and spinning right now.
Carr: We won the case, did we not? I mean, my name is on the case. Your name isn't on the case.
Holmes: Tom. Let's go back into the history of this. That case--the positions you've taken on the campaign for instance were antithetical to the outcome of that case.
Carr: I have supported the system from Day One. I have worked to make it work. What that decision demonstrates is that I am still fighting now for something that Pete has given up on. And if you look at his record on civilian oversight, let's talk about that. In his six years (as head of the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board) he was supposed to produce 12 reports under the law. He produced three.
Holmes: You keep repeating that, and it is simply not true. Are you unaware of the web site? There are seven reports on the web site.
Carr: So there's seven now. You've said that there were three and that we suppressed the rest.
Holmes: You know, guys, if we're going to have this reckless disregard for the facts from the city attorney, I don't know what to say. Tom, you've said this publicly two, three times.
Carr: Pete, Pete, Pete, look. Look at the reports. You're supposed to report twice a year. And during the time you were there you didn't do it. ... Your job was to do it. In the eight years while I was doing all the things I talked about, you got out three.
Holmes: I was personally liable. You did not indemnify us. How can you be so cavalier?
Carr: I'm not cavalier. I tried to work with you on that, Pete. I drafted letter after letter, and we eventually we got legislation. ...We ultimately won that decision because I kept fighting for it.
PubliCola: Pete, explain your position on the domestic violence unit. As we understand it, you would move the DV unit out of the city attorney's office and making it easier for violence victims to request that no-contact orders be lifted. Is that correct?
Holmes: No, no, I think it's just trying to, at the outset, make sure that the prosecutor's actually contacting the victim right up front... rather than waiting until two days before trial. ... And then it's the prosecutor who's going to be going to get involuntary orders. ... If the prosecutor and the victim both want a [no contact] order entered, we don't have a dispute. It's the situation where the prosecutor wants to do something the victim doesn't want them to do. ... To have them rely upon a domestic violence advocate working side by side with the prosecutor, it is difficult to be able to maintain objectivity.
PubliCola: I would have a concern that this is pulling back and giving the prosecutor fewer tools to fight people who are guilty of domestic violence.
Holmes: I actually think this would strengthen their hand. because the judge wants to have the most reliable testimony, the most objective testimony, possible. So knowing that the DV advocate is working in the prosecutor's office and is serving, in effect, as a prosecution investigator... you want someone who will be independent from the prosecution.
Carr: Can I talk now? There's a lot of stuff here.
PubliCola: Either of you can jump in any time.
Carr: Let me start with the second concept. Domestic violence is a crime of coercive control. Batterers control their victims.
One of the things that people have lobbied for in the last 25 years is to have the criminal justice system take more control of the prosecution so the victim isn't in the position of being given a choice in the system. So we ask for an involuntary order the next day in virtually all cases because we want to protect the victim. We don't want the victim having to tell the batterer that they can get that overturned. We want her to be able to say, "I can't. It's the city's choice." That's crucial to protecting the victim.
And remember: We don't see run-of-the-mill domestic violence. We see a case after someone's called 911. This is more than a family dispute. This is violence. This is where domestic disputes have reached the level where someone has called the police and someone has been arrested. We treat every one of them as potential crimes, because in my time about once a year one of my defendants goes on to kill someone. So given that fact, I take a strong stand where it's my responsibility, not the victim's, to protect that person.
We have prosecutors whose job it is to get a prosecution. They're not as experienced in dealing with victims. They work hand in hand with the victims' advocates, whose job it is to advocate for the victim. When Pete says they're investigators, they're not. That's not their role. Their role is to help the victim, and help the prosecutor understand... what's in the best interest of the victim. It's crucial to have them in the same office because that brings the two together. Otherwise you just have a simple prosecution.
There are prosecutors who think they should have complete control of the case and that the advisors should not bother them. The advocates bring the victim's perspective into the prosecutor's office on a daily basis.
Holmes: I don't want to reduce the advocates' role. I want to increase it and make it independent of both the prosecutor and the defense. ... and make sure we have the same resources and adequate staff.
Carr: I want to get everybody together, not push them apart. I think there is a synergy that happens when you work side by side.
PubliCola: Tom, Pete issued a statement this morning accusing you of wanting to build a new jail in Seattle. Is that true? And Pete, what's your plan to make sure the city doesn’t have to build a new jail?
Carr: The reason I have to be open to [a new jail] is because we can't live without any jail beds at all. The city attorney isn't the one who builds a jail. The city attorney is the one who puts people there. ... We need a jail. Taking a political stance that you should never build a jail—of course I don't want to build a new jail. But I can't say with absolute certainty that we won't build a new jai . I think you're not being honest with people if you say that because I'm never going to get the jail population down to zero, no matter what I do. And I don't want to get the population down to zero.
PubliCola: Pete, do you want to get the jail population down to zero?
Holmes: That would be irresponsible, and I've never said that. I've also never said that we don't need some jail facility. I've said that I don't want us to build a new jail. I want us to get past the rhetoric of not supporting alternatives to incarceration. Most of our inmate population from Seattle is pretrial detainees who can't pay bail... These are the poorest defendants.
There are other alternatives—electronic home monitoring, day reporting. The record is quite clear: When electronic home monitoring was proposed, Tom resisted it. When day reporting was proposed, Tom resisted.
Carr: That's absolutely not true. I supported the day reporting system. ... Pete, you're just not telling the truth.... Day reporting wouldn't exist if not for the fact that a prosecutor came in and said yes. EHM would not exist if not for the fact that a prosecutor said yes. Yes, I do support restrictions on these things because there are dangers.
Holmes: What I'm trying to do is say, it's not enough for the guy who's been in office for eight years to take credit for things that happened often over his objections. From day one, my job will include things like expanding electronic home monitoring and day reporting, as well as pre-arrest diversion programs. Think of what we could have accomplished if Tom had been outwardly taking that position from Day One.
Carr: Can I talk eventually? He's just going to talk forever if I don't interrupt.
PubliCola: What restrictions do you support on EHM and day reporting?
Carr: With EHM, I don't allow it in domestic violence cases. I don't think that locking up two people together in a domestic violence situation is a good idea. ...
I believe that our day reporting system is maxed out. We have about 80 participants a day. ... It works, so you save millions of dollars in jail costs, and I have been an enthusiastic supporter of it. Now because it is my role as a prosecutor to question things that might compromise public safety, I do that. ... I didn't just jump up and wave my hands in the air and say we'll do it for every case.
PubliCola: Do you think the drug market initiative is working at getting low-level dealers off the streets?
Carr: The people in the East Precinct say it's quieter as it's ever been, so that was our goal. Of the 16 [participants in the program], five have been arrested and the rest are still in the program. But remember, our mission is to get rid of the drug market. That's our goal. To the extent that we have changed lives, that's a nice bonus.
Holmes: It puts a little more emphasis on the stick rather than the carrot... and that's why Tom made this statement that if you steal a candy bar, I'll put you in jail for a year.... It's unfortunate that it comes in an election year. People are saying, why couldn't we have done this sooner? ... I have no idea what constitutes "success" with regard to the drug market initiative. [As city attorney], I'm going to seek out the latest research and ask, are we actually seeing a reduction in crime?
Carr: He has not proposed a single program that we haven't already tried. ... The thing that's really troubling to me is that Pete is saying things like, the drug market initiative was an election-year stunt. The whole point -- the idea behind that program--is to build trust between the police and the African American community. ... We got the grant last year, long before I even knew there was going to be an election.
PubliCola: Let's talk a little bit about your approach to the office. Pete, you say the city attorney is supposed to represent all the citizens of Seattle. Tom, you say the city attorney represents city offices and officials. Can you flesh out your views?
Carr: The difference is Pete's view that he wants to be a political policy maker. If he says the people are his clients, he's going to diverge from the policy makers.
Holmes: I won't be the mayor's lawyer. I will be the city's attorney. We've been focusing on misdemeanor crimes when we should have been focusing on the civil side where we have mishandled litigation. The Sonics case was mishandled. ... We blinked. We were outlawyered. And I lay that right at Mr. Carr's footsteps.
PubliCola: Pete, can you briefly address concerns that, as a bankruptcy attorney with no experience as a prosecutor, you're unprepared for this job?
Holmes: I have as much prosecutorial experience as Tom did when he came into this office. If that's the argument [against me] you will never elect a challenger against an incumbent.
Carr: I was an assistant US attorney ... I worked on organized crime cases for four years. More important, we're not comparing Tom Carr in 2002 to Pete Holmes in 2009. You have to look at all the things I've done during my time in office and judge me from that.