Cites inadequate funding, racial attacks
Okanogan County Prosecutor Arian Noma has submitted his resignation as of Jan. 15, 2021, halfway through his first four-year term.
Noma informed the Okanogan County commissioners of his decision in a brief, one-sentence letter on Dec. 10 simply stating he was resigning.
But Noma provided substantially more context in a three-page letter to “Citizens,” in which he detailed his accomplishments and his frustrations — primarily with what he described as insufficient money to do his job. Noma also said that he was leaving because of “racially motivated attacks” that made him fear for his and his family’s safety.
In accordance with the state constitution, the Okanogan County Republican Party will submit three nominees to the county commissioners, who will review their credentials and conduct interviews before making a selection to fill Noma’s unexpired term, Okanogan County Human Resources Director Tanya Craig said. The next election is in 2022 and the appointee would have to run and win to remain in the position, she said.
Noma, a Republican, ran in 2018 on a platform of reforming the county’s justice system, including what he called “over-criminalization” of minor infractions, particularly for young people, and excessive bail. Noma defeated Brandon Platter, a Democrat who had been appointed to fill the seat of the previous prosecutor after he resigned to take another job.
In his letter to the citizens, Noma pointed to successes under his leadership. The Prosecutor’s Office redefined its approach to charging decisions, focusing more on rehabilitation than punishment for non-violent crimes, he said.
The office eliminated excessive fees that made it difficult for people who had served their sentences to remove themselves from the criminal system even after their cases were concluded. The office cleared many case backlogs at the District and Superior court levels. They caught up with appeals by people convicted of major crimes, winning all of them, Noma said.
Nonetheless, Noma said his office faced many challenges because of inadequate funding, exacerbated by the temporary shutdown of jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the office once again faces a backlog of cases, he said.
“The growing backlog leads to a primary purpose of writing this letter, which is to inform you that Okanogan County’s budget crisis is one of the most pressing dilemmas and threats to public safety,” Noma said. Noma said the Prosecutor’s Office needs at least seven more attorneys and three more support staff to carry out their duties.
The county’s two Superior Court deputy prosecutors each have more than 100 cases at a time — right now, one has 242 open cases and the other has 140, Noma said. Noma handles serious crimes and homicides himself.
“I have repeatedly asked for additional funds to do this service, but unfortunately that has not materialized. To be clear, it is not fair to our client, the Okanogan Public, to only have three trial deputies to handle the job requiring at least five. I cannot ethically consent to ‘business as usual’ where cases are unfiled, trials are delayed, or even dismissed or lost due to lack of personnel,” Noma said.
Personal, racially motivated attacks
Noma noted that criticism of any public office is merited, but he decried “undue attacks on this office and its leaders, including racially motivated attacks that are un-equivocally un-American,” he said. “I routinely received vile attacks about my race, ancestry, and even the color of my skin.”
Noma said that his home and minor children have been watched and his vehicles followed and photographed. He said a Facebook page had been set up “for the sole purpose of harassing my home, family, voters, and friends that supported me.”
Noma accused people on the Facebook page of referring to him sarcastically and disrespectfully as a “man” (in quotation marks) or with the “well-known racial epithet ‘boy.’” He asserted that none of his white predecessors ever experienced similar attacks on social media.
“It should go without saying that social media use to publically [sic] disseminate my vehicle information, the location of my town and neighborhood, and instructions to find my address in order to locate my home was utterly inappropriate, potentially dangerous, caused my family fear and anxiety, and by any rational or ethical standard, is completely out of bounds,” Noma said.
“The combination of an impossible institutional task and an utterly dehumanizing work context makes my tenure as your prosecutor untenable,” Noma said, noting that it had been an honor to serve the county’s citizens.
A Facebook page called “No More Noma” was set up this past summer to “educate the citizens regarding Prosecutor Noma’s inability to provide justice and safety to Okanogan County,” according to the page. Posts by the unidentified page administrators alleged that Noma was rarely on the job and that he mistreated and belittled his staff and was unprofessional in court.
The page claimed that Noma’s reforms, which they said had reduced jail numbers to an all-time low, would be obvious to people “when the same criminals are burglarizing your house, murdering your loved ones or raping small children.”
The organizers of the page pointedly put the title “Prosecutor” and “man” in quotation marks when referring to Noma. In an August posting, they said, “Then, this ‘man’ has the audacity to proclaim deficiencies because of budget and lack of funding.” In September, they posted, “from this point forward we will no longer use ‘Prosecutor’ for Arian. We will only use Arian; not even Noma as utilizing a last name denotes some sort of respect.”
This summer, the Facebook page said Noma had described himself as “African American” at a Black Lives Matter rally and accused him of being a “chameleon blending into whatever group he can to gain trust.”