Okanogan County has a new acting prosecuting attorney, after a complex series of appointments, resignations and hirings at a special meeting on Friday (Feb. 4).
Sue Baur, who retired in November as deputy prosecuting attorney for Wahkiakum County, stepped into the acting role on Monday (Feb. 7) to fill the spot left by the resignation of Okanogan County’s elected prosecutor Melanie Bailey. Bailey’s last day was Jan. 27.
As acting prosecutor, Baur will oversee the office until the county commissioners appoint an interim prosecutor. 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.
Since the party hadn’t yet provided any names to the commissioners, the county had to come up with a solution to keep the office functioning.
It was a fairly unprecedented situation. Okanogan County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Gecas researched state laws and consulted with other attorneys, Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp, and the state Attorney General’s office to determine how to handle the vacancy, which necessitated multiple steps under different sections of state law.
On Monday Jan. 31, Culp appointed Gecas and the county’s other four deputy prosecuting attorneys as deputy prosecutors, giving them the authority to serve during the hiatus.
Although the appointment of Gecas and the other four deputies lasted just five days, it was necessary to ensure the functioning of the office. There were many cases scheduled in District Court last week, Gecas said.
When there’s a vacancy in a partisan elected office, state law allows the county legislative authority to appoint a deputy or assistant employee as an acting official to perform all necessary duties to continue normal office operations. But that individual does have to be a county employee. That meant Baur couldn’t be appointed directly.
So, on Friday (Feb. 4), Culp administered the oath of office to Loreva Preuss, one of the county’s felony deputy prosecutors, as acting prosecutor. That gave Preuss the authority to hire Baur. Once Baur became a county employee, Preuss resigned as acting prosecutor, and the commissioners appointed Baur as acting prosecutor. After she became acting prosecutor, Baur re-hired Preuss for her old job as felony deputy.
Preuss served as acting prosecutor for about 40 minutes, most of which was spent waiting for documents to be prepared. “It takes a lot of cooperation to get through an uncertain event like this one,” Okanogan County Commissioner Chris Branch said at the special meeting.
After Baur took the oath as acting prosecutor, she swore in all of the deputy prosecutors in the office, as is required whenever there’s a new prosecutor.
The commissioners adopted a resolution appointing Baur as acting prosecutor until an interim prosecutor has been appointed to fill the unexpired term. The person selected as interim prosecutor will have to run for the seat in the November election to remain in office.
Under state law, candidates for partisan office must be registered to vote in the geographic area represented by that office. To register to vote, a person must have resided at that address for at least 30 days before the next election in which they plan to vote.
Amid the careful attention to procedure, much of Friday’s meeting was given over to casual conversation as everyone waited for additional paperwork. Branch described kayak trips that took him to Wahkiakum County, on the Columbia River in southwest Washington.
Bailey was aware of Baur’s willingness to step in and provided her name to the county before she left, Gecas told the Methow Valley News.
Before her work with Wahkiakum County, Baur worked for Cowlitz County for 28 years, including 14 as elected prosecutor. Because she lives in Longview, in addition to the salary, she is receiving a housing stipend, Gecas said.
Candidates for prosecutor?
Initially, only one person had submitted interest in the job to the county’s Republican Party, but Gecas said he believes there are now four potential candidates. The party is scheduled to meet on Feb. 19 to consider applicants, according to Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover.