Seattle’s new city attorney envisions balanced, collaborative future

Dec 20, 2021, 7:11 AM | Updated: Dec 22, 2021, 8:27 am
city attorney...
Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison. (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

When Ann Davison takes office next month, she will be the first new city attorney Seattle has had in 12 years. She will also be the first woman to ever hold that office, vowing a different approach to the office than her predecessor Pete Holmes.

Ann Davison: Will be ‘room in the middle’ in Seattle City Attorney’s office

Davison often criticized Holmes on the campaign trail for being soft on low level criminals, claiming he had created a de facto like lawlessness in Seattle that she promised to end. Just days before she takes office, that position remains unchanged.

Davison last ran for office in an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 2020, when she ran as a Republican. While the Seattle city attorney is a non-partisan office, many progressives see Davison as the conservative “law and order” choice who would reverse criminal justice reforms achieved in Seattle immediately upon taking the oath of office. Not quite, says Davison.

“We need to course correct and change Seattle’s reputation around crime, our laws, our values. They should not be selectively enforced,“ Davison said.

But she is also focused on mending fences and the big picture.

“I also want to make the city attorney’s office to be one of the premier municipal law departments in the country,” she explained. “We do that by rebuilding relationships with other agencies so that we can, within the larger ecosystem, create public safety for the city.”

That all starts with data.

“We need to invest in data and transparency solutions so that we can reduce crime,” Davison described. “I don’t want to do the same things and expect a different result. I think we need to have that data and the transparency for the public, one, for good governance, but also to lead and make intelligent decisions, informed decisions, about what is working to reduce crime so we can help the city move forward in a positive way in regards to public safety.”

Davison is especially interested in one particular set of data.

“Specifically, the data I’ve been trying to get is about the backlog because we’re nearing about 4,000 unfiled cases,” she noted. “It’s a quite a significant amount. I have a team that is reviewing that data so we can provide, again, educated, informed decisions about what will be responsive for that and going forward on public safety.”

“I’m not aware of all the data collected currently, but I know that my intention is to increase that and enhance that,” Davison added. “Again, as we build toward good governance that transparency piece is a pivotal part for us and informs our decision-making.”

Ann Davison’s team

One big priority for Davison’s office will be figuring out what’s behind the city’s so-called prolific offenders, and the best way to stop that cycle.

“As a former member of the general public, I, like you, was trying to figure out, where’s the disconnect?” she posited. “Because clearly it is happening, and when you’re not sure, you’re trying to fill in that information gap. That’s why I’m excited about my hires that I announced.”

Those new hires are Natalie Walton-Anderson, who Davison has tapped as her new criminal chief, and Scott Lindsay, who she’s named deputy city attorney.

Walden-Anderson was with the King County prosecutor’s office for 24 years before becoming an assistant U.S. attorney in March.

“Natalie Walton-Anderson, who has worked within all of those areas that you speak of — mental health or behavioral health issues, substance use disorders, the therapeutic courts,” she detailed. “She’s very well-versed in that, very experienced in those, and we want to have those alternatives for when people are responsive and we can provide help to intervene. And when it’s not responsive, we have other tools, and so it’s very important to have her in that role as criminal chief. I’m very, very excited to have her.”

Walton-Anderson was unit chair for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD), when she worked at the county prosecutor’s office and had a big focus on alternatives to incarceration programs.

On the flip side, Davison’s second hire is Scott Lindsay, who served as public safety adviser for former Mayor Ed Murray, and tried unsuccessfully to unseat Pete Holmes as city attorney in 2017.

Lindsay also detailed the issue of prolific offenders —  or familiar faces, as elected officials often refer to them —  in a pair of reports, titled “System Failure” that some have criticized for its connection to KOMO-TV’s “Seattle is Dying” series.

For Davison, it’s about balance.

“You have to have it all,” she described. “The criminal legal system has problems — yes. But we also have to know that it is a tool to speak on behalf of people who feel powerless, and we have to remember there are a lot of people who feel powerless, powerless to run their business, powerless to raise their family, and that is a piece that we can help with here at the city attorney’s office.”

Davison does not have an extensive background in criminal law, and was very intentional about her choices in these positions.

“I believe you must listen first and problem-solve second, and to do that effectively, I want to always hear diverse perspectives,” she said. “Also, no two people have the same experience with the criminal legal system, which is why it’s important to have advisers that have different perspectives.”

“Ultimately, I think Natalie and Scott share more commonalities than they differ,” Davison continued. “But effecting change means that we also acknowledge that not one tool is going to be the way to get us there. Having them both on my team is purposeful, and intentional, and it’s because of that the solutions are going to be blended. So we want to make sure we have people who are very experienced in those areas, very knowledgeable, have a wealth of expertise to bring to the city attorney’s office to join the people here who’ve been doing the work. It’s important to have them here, and I am very excited that they both agreed to join.”

Addressing public safety and case backlog

Davison recently criticized the Seattle City Council for passing a measure that preemptively placed reporting requirements on the city attorney’s office, in what was a watered-down version of what was originally expected to be a mandate to continue with current pre-filing diversion programs, like LEAD and others. She made clear in that letter that diversion is part of the Seattle criminal justice equation – but so is accountability for one’s actions, and to the people of Seattle.

“Absolutely — again, when we are looking at a way where we can intervene, and people are responsive to alternatives, we want that there. Looking at the data, looking at what is working and what is not, will inform our decisions of how we go forward on that,” Davison explained.

It will come down to how individual diversion programs and offenders perform.

Seattle city attorney candidate focuses message on ‘making sure people are safe’

For now, Davison is anxious to get to work and make a difference for those in the city who feel ignored when it comes to public safety.

“I am a person that is very excited to be at a place where I can actually have that positive impact and not just talk about it,” she said. “Listening is the first step, and then being the problem solver is the second. Now being in that position where we can put those together and letting people see that that’s exactly what want to do. I am very excited to have that level of community engagement that maybe has not been here before.”

To start, though, Davison’s top priority will be to clear the aforementioned backlog of cases.

“I do think that is so significant,” Davison said. “New cases are put at the end of the line currently, so it is a significant piece that we must address, and we will handle it seriously. I do need to get in there and really have a thorough understanding of what is there, and we will continue that and have a plan to talk about that very, very quickly because it is something that is critical.”

So, where does our new city attorney see Seattle a year from now?

“I do see us in a place with a sense of hopefulness so that we have brought down tension, we have built collaborative working relationships with other agencies because it is an ecosystem together that creates public safety,” she envisions. “So a year from now, we have those established, they are well formed to provide public safety, because it is not just me unilaterally in this office that creates public safety, but it is making sure those collaborative working relationships are there. So a year from now, they are working.”

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Seattle’s new city attorney envisions balanced, collaborative future