Bailey resigns after one year on job
Okanogan County is looking for a new prosecuting attorney for the second time in a year, with the resignation of Melanie Bailey effective Jan. 28, after she served just one year in the position.
Bailey was appointed in January 2021 as prosecutor by the Okanogan County commissioners after elected prosecutor Arian Noma resigned halfway through his four-year term.
Bailey notified the commissioners of her resignation in a brief letter on Jan. 3. “After much deliberation, I have decided to resign from the position of Okanogan County Prosecutor. My last day as prosecutor will be January 28, 2022,” it said in its entirety.
In accordance with the state constitution, since Bailey was a Republican, the Okanogan County Republican Party will submit up to three nominees to the county commissioners to fill out her term. The commissioners were expecting to have applicants by now, but so far only one person has expressed interest, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said.
The commissioners held a special meeting on Friday afternoon (Jan. 28) to explore options to address what Hover called “a looming problem with no coverage.”
“It all boils down to, ‘Who’s the boss when the boss is gone?’” Commissioner Chris Branch said.
The county had a temporary solution as of Monday (Jan. 31). Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp signed an order appointing the county’s five deputy prosecutors “to discharge the duties of all civil and criminal matters in Okanogan County Superior Court” through March 1. If the position is filled before then, the order can be rescinded, Culp said.
This was Bailey’s third stint with the county. She served as chief criminal deputy prosecutor for about three years, two under Noma’s predecessor and one under Noma. After a few months in private practice, Bailey returned as the county’s felony deputy prosecuting attorney under Noma, but left again after a few months.
Between that job and being appointed as prosecutor, Bailey worked for the law firm that contracts with the county to provide public defenders. “I came back because my heart is here,” she told the Methow Valley News last year.
Bailey ran unopposed for the one-year expired term for the position in November 2021, which was required for her to remain in the seat after an interim appointment.
One of the longest-tenured employees in the office, Chief Criminal Deputy Felecia Chandler, is also resigning, as of Feb 28. In her nearly 18 years with the county, Chandler handled felonies, juvenile cases, and drug court cases.
Chandler submitted her resignation on Jan. 11 and intended to leave the same day as Bailey, but she agreed to stay until the end of February, Human Resources Director Tanya Everett said.
In her letter, Chandler said she was announcing her resignation “with a very heavy heart.” Her resignation “allows the newly appointed Prosecutor to appoint their own Chief and saves me the risk of potential termination,” Chandler wrote. “I looked at various options to try to stay on through the transition, even if temporarily, however none of them worked, where I could effectively step down as Chief.”
Chandler wrote that Bailey tried hard to find a workable solution for her. She also invited the county to reach out “should the newly appointed prosecutor wish to re-appoint me to my former position in Drug Court and Juvenile Court in the near future.”
Chandler also offered to work on an emergency basis to cover those courts temporarily. “So, it’s possible this may not be goodbye forever,” she wrote.
Two district court deputy prosecuting attorney positions are also vacant, Everett said. One of the attorneys resigned with 30 minutes’ notice in early January, Hover said. The other post has been vacant since November.
The other attorneys in the office are Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Gecas, two felony deputy prosecuting attorneys, and a support enforcement deputy prosecuting attorney.
At the special meeting on Friday, the commissioners, Gecas and Culp explored the county’s options. While state law covers various aspects of prosecutor’s vacancies, there’s no law that specifically addresses the situation the county is facing, they said.
Chandler and Gecas told the commissioners on Friday that they weren’t able to take on the prosecutor’s duties and still handle their own workloads, but said they’d do what they could to help on a short-term basis.
Culp signed his order based on a law that allows the Superior Court judge to appoint a prosecutor or deputy if the prosecutor fails, “from sickness or another cause,” to perform his or her duties. None of the deputies consented to being appointed as acting prosecutor, and that wasn’t necessary given this option, Culp said by email.
Culp’s order pertains only to Superior Court, but he has recommended that Okanogan County District Court Judge Charles Short make similar appointments.
High turnover, high caseloads
While the prosecutor’s office has experienced unusually high turnover in recent years, it hasn’t had so many people leave at once, Chandler said.
In 2018 and 2019, while Noma was prosecutor, 11 people left jobs at the prosecutor’s office (not counting Noma), according to the county’s Human Resources Department. About half of those people were in administrative positions; the rest were deputy prosecutors and victim-witness advocates. Most had been on the job for just a few years, and some only for a few months, Everett said.
Before that, going back as far as 2002, annual turnover ranged from one to four people, according to Human Resources.
Bailey was one of two people to apply for the prosecutor’s job last year. The other applicant, David Stevens, had been the county’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor for a year. When he didn’t get the prosecutor’s job, he resigned.
Noma said he was resigning in part because there wasn’t enough money to do his job. He said the office needed five trial deputies to handle the work load, but that it had only three.
The caseload remains high. The county’s two felony deputies are each handling about 100 cases, and Bailey also had 100, Gecas said. Last March, after two months on the job, Bailey called caseloads “high, but manageable.”
The Republican Party is scheduled to meet on Feb. 19 to consider applicants, Hover said. The prosecutor is on the ballot for the full four-year term in November 2022.