Saturday, June 2, 2018

County Prosecutor Tunheim Defends Career, Successes

Above: Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim speaks at his campaign kick-off party held May 14 at St. Martin’s University in Lacey.

County Prosecutor Has Challenger in Reelection Campaign

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“I was a soldier in the War on Drugs,” said Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim, speaking to a room of over 200 supporters at his campaign kick-off party held May 14 at St. Martin’s University in Lacey.

In his speech titled, “The Changing Notion of Justice,” Tunheim chronicled the role of prosecutors, the definition of justice, and changing attitudes toward issues of addiction and mental illness.

Defending his career in a campaign for re-election, Tunheim did not shy away from admitting his role as a tough prosecutor in the 1980s. He said he prosecuted criminals to the fullest extent of the law.

“The rhetoric was all about fighting the fight and winning the war. Justice for a prosecutor back then meant getting the conviction, getting that long sentence. Our performance was measured by conviction rates and sentence length….I tried a lot of cases and frankly, won most of them.”

Tunheim said he used to jokingly say that dismissal was not in his vocabulary.

Tunheim explained that while the crime rate has gone down, the national criminal justice system has become one without compassion and hope.

While some cases need a criminal justice resolution, Tunheim said, reform means changing the definition of a win, whether it means dismissing a case, getting someone into treatment or alternatives to correct issues, or not charging someone.

Citing reform effort successes, Tunheim mentioned the establishment of the Monarch Children’s Advocacy Center and the establishment of several alternative, therapeutic courts: drug, mental health, driving under the influence, and veteran’s court, the first such court in Washington State.

Tunheim touted Thurston County’s court programs as a model system and mentioned a new unit, called “First Look,” established to proactively identify cases that would be appropriate for diversion prior to charging.  He mentioned the creation of the Family Justice Center, construction of a new mental health triage unit, and a new case management protocol for felony cases.

“The new model of justice is smart on crime. Smart does not mean soft on crime….There is evil in this community…and prosecutors still need to be on the front line to protect the community from that evil,” he said.

While the crowd ate pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans and coleslaw, about 20 elected officials stood when recognized, as did about 12 deputy prosecuting attorneys. The other attorneys, Tunheim said, were doing their jobs, “keeping the community safe.”

In the end, Tunheim received a standing ovation.

The position of prosecuting attorney and the issues associated with it may not be on voters’ radar because current Thurston County prosecuting attorney Jon Tunheim has never had a challenger. Now he does.

Local attorney Victor Minjares, who is running on the issues of reform, respect, and justice, says there are serious issues with the criminal justice system in Thurston County.

Little Hollywood interviewed Minjares for an article posted May 3 at

Tunheim first took office in 2010 and is running for his third term. Each term is four years. Before Tunheim, Ed Holm had been prosecutor for three terms, from 1999 to 2010 and did not run for reelection. Tunheim, who was chief criminal deputy prosecutor at the time, ran for the position and won, and won reelection in 2014.

Tunheim first joined the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office as a legal intern in 1988 and has won many awards for his community service.

Minjares and Tunheim are running as Democrats.

Coming Up Next: Little Hollywood recently interviewed Tunheim on themes mentioned at his campaign kickoff party and took a deep dive into a 2017 independent report about Thurston County Superior Court felony case flow and calendar management. Tunheim responds to the report, which is particularly harsh in its findings about the processes within the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. 

Above: Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim filled a room with supporters at his campaign kick-off party on May 14.

Editor’s Note/Clarifications, June 3: An edit was made to clarify that the treatment courts were established prior to Tunheim’s election as prosecuting attorney. An edit was also made to clarify that the Family Justice Center is not a jail program. It is a program that provides support and services to victims and survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. It is located in the Family Support Center of South Sound and is a partnership between the Prosecutor’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office, the County Clerk’s Office and the Family Support Center.