A contract with an independent prosecutor to avoid conflicts of interest on any cases former Okanogan County Prosecutor Melanie Bailey handled while in private practice is no longer necessary now that Bailey has resigned.
After a court hearing on Feb. 1, Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Henry Rawson signed an order vacating the appointment of Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer as of Jan. 29, the day after Bailey’s resignation.
When Bailey was appointed by the county commissioners in January 2021, the county appointed Meyer, then the elected Lewis County prosecutor and president of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, to handle about 110 cases. Meyer appointed special deputy prosecutors from counties across the state to cover some of the cases.
The arrangement was necessary to comply with a 2020 state Supreme Court ruling that disqualifies an entire prosecutor’s office from handling any case handled by a law firm where the county’s prosecutor worked while in private practice, or any case handled by a law firm that prosecutor had been associated with. It also covered attorney/client privilege, so, even if the firm held a consultation but didn’t end up representing a client, the county was disqualified.
Now that Bailey has left the job, the potential conflicts are also gone, meaning that he has lost his authority to act, Meyer said at the court hearing
Several defense attorneys attended the court hearing, and all but one had no objection to vacating Meyer’s role. But Andy Chase of the Okanogan-based law firm Miller & Chase said it was too soon to issue the order. With the appointment of the county’s five deputy prosecuting attorneys to handle Bailey’s cases until the county commissioners appoint a new interim prosecutor, Chase argued that each deputy needs to be screened for each existing case to ensure there are no conflicts.
Chase is handling several cases already near resolution or trial. He argued that these cases will be in limbo until the county has a new appointed or elected prosecutor, and asked that Meyer stay on until then. Otherwise, the situation creates “an appellate mess waiting to happen,” Chase said.
Since neither Bailey nor the office has been handling any cases with a potential conflict, Rawson determined that the office should have no issues or conflicts.
The county’s new prosecuting attorney may ask the independent deputies from other counties who’ve been responsible for conflict cases to continue to handle them, in which case the county will make new appointments, Rawson said.