April 21, 2024 8:31 am

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The first 40 days: An exclusive interview with County Prosecutor Jason Cummings

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash., February 13, 2023—Snohomish County Prosecutor, Jason Cummings, was elected to public office last November as the county’s top, leading, attorney. To discuss his first 40 days in office and check in on the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office in general, the Lynnwood Times sat down with Cummings to discuss his role’s challenges, achievements, and get an update to the court’s backlog of cases.

Jason Cummings

Cummings was elected to Snohomish County Prosecutor last November. With approximately 25 years of experience at the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office, Jason Cummings has served as Chief Civil Deputy for the last 14 years. In addition to running the Civil Division, and its team of 35 attorneys and staff, he managed the Office’s $30 million budget and has served on the leadership teams of the last three elected prosecuting attorneys.

In 2009, Cummings was appointed acting Prosecuting Attorney by the Snohomish County Council to manage operations until Prosecutor Mark Roe was formally appointed later that year.

Cummings served as lead on the Data Collection Initiative that begun earlier last year to evaluate performance metrics with the goal of better understanding racial and ethnic disparities in Snohomish County.

Jason lives in Edmonds with his wife of 25 years, Kim, along with their son and daughter. Raised in Edmonds, Cummings graduated from Edmonds-Woodway High School and the University of Washington before earning his Law Degree at the Seattle University School of Law 1996. He serves or has served on the Imagine Children’s Board, the Edmonds Lion Club, as a youth sports coach, and as a school board and committee member.

LT: How are things going now that you’re a few months into your County Prosecuting Attorney position? Any unexpected challenges?

Jason Cummings: I don’t know if there’s been anything unexpected. There’s been lots of great successes, folks working hard in the office and doing good things. We’ve had a lot of positions that the council was fortunate enough to support with the budget that we’re working hard on getting filled. 

The biggest frustration is the tough hiring market, particularly in the public sector. I’ve talked with colleagues in other counties, other elected prosecutors, and they’re experiencing the same thing, in that we’re all fighting hard to attract the same limited pool of candidates but we’re gradually getting some of these spots filled which has been great.

LT: What about accomplishments, anything you’re particularly proud of?

Jason Cummings: Forty days is a pretty short turnaround but the biggest accomplishments, I think, is reaching out and working with folks in the office to find out what I can do to help them be successful. I really feel like a lot of the feedback I’ve been getting has been good, positive, feedback. We have great people who really enjoy what they’re doing.

Being elected is sort of like being part coach, part cheerleader, part Radar O’Reily from M*A*S*H trying to help make sure they get the resources they need to get their job done.

LT: You’ve previously worked in King County and Kitsap County, how does Snohomish County compare to other counties in how it operates?

JC: I think every county operates a little differently, it just depends on their size and location. I started out my career in King County, as a contract Deputy Prosecutor in the District Court Unit, so I was there very briefly before getting, what I call, my first real job out in Kitsap because it paid benefits and was a full-time, permanent, gig.

After a few years in Kitsap I was able to lateral over to Snohomish County. It’s a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: one county’s too big, one county’s too small, and one county’s just right – I feel that way about Snohomish County. We’re not so big that there’s a disconnect between folks in the law and justice community, but we’re big enough to have a good, diverse, pool of colleagues throughout the county, whether it be the Sheriff’s Office and the courts – you name it. That’s what I really like about Snohomish County.

LT: Speaking of Snohomish County being that “perfect” size; according to Census Data, Snohomish County is one of the fastest growing counties in Washington State at a rate of approximately 20% since 2010 and its only projected to continue growing. How is the Prosecutor’s Office preparing for this projected growth?

JC: We’re really trying to use the resources we have in terms of our databases to be able to bring information to the front and make informed decisions based on trends and data. One of the first things we’ve done is sit down with our office manager and asked to look at development reports to see where case flows are in terms of backlogs versus getting charged versus where we’re seeing sticking points, so we can be more nimble in anticipating those areas based on the data that we have. We have to be continually ready to perform and evolve. As we grow as a county unfortunately it’s inevitable that we’re going to see our workload volume increase and I know that’s been a constant struggle.

Snohomish County Prosecutor Jason Cummings (right) with Police Chiefs around Washington state and Sheriff Adam Fortney at Law and Justice Day in Olympia in February 2023.

I was just down in Olympia for Law Day, which is a day where elected prosecutors and Police Chiefs from across the state come to the capital to meet with our representatives to talk about important issues. Our Police Chiefs were really advocating for more resources for law enforcement in terms of the ability to be able to hire, retain, and pay good wages to attract good law enforcement officers in this area. The same goes for the prosecutor’s office. We really have to be advocates to make sure we have the appropriate resources that we can continue to grow and handle as our county grows.

It is great to be in Snohomish County, a place where a lot of people want to be. It’s great and exciting news to hear Boeing is moving the 737 line up to the Everett facility, that’s going to add additional jobs and I think that’s outstanding. As a result, as we see job growth we know more people are going to come but as a whole, as a county, and that’s one of the reasons the Growth Management Act directs us in this way, we really need to be forward thinking and planning for that growth to provide them these necessary services.

LT: When I spoke to former County Prosecutor, Adam Cornell, last year he mentioned the courts were experiencing a tremendous backlog in cases due to courts being closed during COVID. With the addition of two new judges what is the current status of that backlog and what is the updated estimate for getting caught up?

JC: I’ve used this analogy before that we’re not a speed boat on Lake Stevens, we’re more like one of the aircraft carriers coming into the Navy port here in Everett. We’re not going to turn things around on a dime, but we are starting to make progress. Having those additional judges is going to help free up some resources. It was awesome that the second week of January we had seven jury trials going out, which was a huge number, so we’re getting lots of trials out the door – we’re continuing to work on that area.

As we work on filling some of the new positions and vacant positions we have in our office, that’s going to help us apply those resources. We had a concerted effort towards the end of last year to push out some of the backlog in the District Court area to bring forth some of these cases we really needed to get charged. We got a lot of DUI’s in that timeframe.

Is there a magic number when we say we’ve completely turned that corner? We’re not there yet but once we’re fully staffed, I think we can have a much better estimate in how we can push cases through in an appropriate manner.

LT: What sort of priority scale are you using to determine which cases to prosecute before others?

JC: First and foremost, you have to look at statute of limitations so you don’t lose out on cases based on age. So, case age is always going to be an aspect. As an office we’re always going to prioritize violent crime, crimes against children, sex crimes, DUI’s – those are always going to be our priority cases that will take precedence against cases that aren’t involving people.

In other words, there’s person crimes and property crimes and we’re always going to prioritize those person crimes. However, we’ve already put in place in our non-violent charging unit ways to identify cases from prolific affecters or unlawful possession of firearm cases and we’re going to continue to put priority on those areas.

We want to make sure that we’re focused on those that are the most work for the full system. I’ve been very excited about some of the work that we’ve done in partnership with the Sheriff’s Office, with the Executive Office, Human Services, Public Works, and other departments on the 128th Street corridor. We’ve really made it a priority to look from I-5 to Airport Road and 99 to really take all of our resources to improve a hard-hit community. One of the capstones is we had a massive cleanup down there and that’s been neat to see, but we have to make sure that it’s sustainable so this neighborhood can enjoy the success that we’ve had in the short term, long term.

LT: Is there any particular legislation this session you’ve been following? Any your hoping will pass, hoping doesn’t pass?

JC: Well SB-5440 was the one bill that I testified on, where we expressed concerns, and that was an effort by the state to shift competency restoration onto local government and counties. I was particularly concerned because we already have tremendous resource constraints on our mental health services here in the county already. It’s certainly a state obligation and it’s bound to be a state obligation by courts as the state continues to face sanctions and contempt matters for not having addressed that. So, I was very concerned and I’m hopeful the legislature will not move on that.

I’m constantly looking at the different Blake rules that are being introduced. That is one of the number one priority the legislation needs to deal with this year because the temporary fix they did expires this summer. That temporary fix, frankly, isn’t working. We have greater substance disorder issues on our streets that are combined and co-occurring with homelessness and mental health issues.

At the end of the day, we’ve taken a tool away from law enforcement and from community service providers to be able to reach folks and get them into alternatives. I also think the legislature is going to need to put together the dollars needed for public safety, treatment programs, and bed spaces in our communities to get these folks into, so that they can deal with the root cause of their addiction.

LT: What are your priorities for the coming days and next steps?

JC: We want to be focused on our backlogs, so we’ll continue to do that. You’re not going to turn it around in 40 days but those have been important conversations and it continues to be a priority.

In addition, it’s working on filling the vacant positions that we have. We have some good people who are starting, and I look forward to getting them into the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and but we still have a handful of positions to fill and we’re going to work hard on getting those filled.

2022 Interview with then-candidate Jason Cummings

LT Exclusive: Jason Cummings
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