U.S. attorney: Federal courthouse in Vancouver top priority

Keeping partnership with local police also a goal




Western Washington’s top U.S. attorney was in Vancouver this week, emphasizing the importance of having a federal presence here and a strong relationship with local prosecutors and police.

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, whose offices are in Seattle, met with Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik before an interview Tuesday at The Columbian office.

At the top of her priority list, she said, was continuing a strong partnership with law enforcement here and eventually making a fully staffed federal courthouse in Vancouver a reality.

While defendants can make brief preliminary appearances at the Federal Building across from the Clark County Courthouse in downtown Vancouver, they must travel to the U.S. District Courthouse in Tacoma for resolution of their cases. Vancouver doesn’t have a federal judge or assistant U.S. attorneys, and relies on a part-time magistrate and local deputy prosecutors acting as special federal prosecutors.

Former U.S. Rep. Brian Baird made headway when he launched a 23-member steering committee in 2005 to increase federal prosecution in Southwest Washington of illegal immigration, methamphetamine use, identity theft and embezzlement.

Durkan, who started in October 2009, said she wants to continue that emphasis, but conceded there’s a lack of momentum in light of the budget crunch.

Issue not addressed

The future of the federal courthouse remains in limbo.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler has not publicly addressed the issue of a federal courthouse in Southwest Washington. Her spokesman, Casey Bowman, said Durkan has not approached her about the issue. “Jaime would love to hear from her or any other project advocate,” Bowman said.

Even so, Durkan said her prosecutors will continue to aggressively prosecute violent crimes and property crimes, which have been rampant in Clark County since the economic recession hit.

She said it will be incumbent to have support of local law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office to do so.

“On most issues, local law enforcement is best to address it,” she said. “That’s really going to be our best eyes on the ground.”

Prosecutor Golik echoed Durkan’s goals, saying a strong local and federal presence has been the best way to fight a rising gang problem and drug cases.

Penalties in the federal court system are often more severe, and attorneys are able to use certain evidence that’s not admissible in the state court system. So, Golik said, certain cases are best handled by U.S. attorneys.

“They’re cognizant of the fact that we want to handle some of the important cases,” Golik said. “But they know we want their support when they can get a better result than we can.”

Columbian staff writer Kathie Durbin contributed to this story.