Prosecutor weathers tough first year in office

Golik, who faced cancer diagnosis, tight budget, did a great job, colleagues say

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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photoClark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik hasn’t imposed many changes in the office, save for the inception of the Elder Abuse Justice Center and a revamping of the drug court program. He says his predecessor, Art Curtis, had a good track record that didn’t need much overhaul.

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In his first year at the helm of the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office, Tony Golik saw the number of major crimes filings increase, including the office’s first aggravated murder case in nearly three years.

He had to learn the administrative duties under a tight county budget after taking the reins from a predecessor who held the job for 29 years.

And halfway through the first year, the 44-year-old was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer.

Nothing came easy for Golik, for

merly a deputy prosecutor who won a hard-fought election in November 2010. But as Golik moves forward this year with a level of uncertainty in how the county’s budget woes will play out in his office, he’s acclimated to the job with ease, his counterparts say.

“It’s been a busy but rewarding first year,” Golik said, sitting in his spacious corner office in downtown Vancouver.

Consistency was on his side, he added. “There haven’t been many giant surprises. I worked in this office right down the hall.”

Indeed, the smooth transition has been a reflection of his tenure, said Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Fairgrieve. Golik started at the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office in 2000, becoming a major crimes deputy prosecutor there in 2004.

As one of the senior attorneys prior to taking office, Golik already had input in how the top cases were handled, Fairgrieve said.

The biggest hurdle was for longtime attorneys in the office who had grown accustomed to former Prosecutor Art Curtis’ long-standing leadership and policies to transition to a new skipper.

Still, “as time went on, there’s clearly a recognition that this is a new administration,” Fairgrieve said.

During his campaign, Golik made it clear that he didn’t plan to make any substantial changes, besides shifting around attorneys and implementing a few new guidelines.

He did promise to be more visible and accessible to defense attorneys. Curtis was known to keep a low profile in his final years in office.

Steve Thayer, a Vancouver defense lawyer for 34 years, said Golik has been loyal to that promise. This summer, Thayer represented a Battle Ground teenager charged in a high-profile cat shooting case and met with Golik personally several times to discuss the case.

“He has kept his promise to maintain an open-door policy that allows defense attorneys an opportunity to meet with him and his chief criminal deputies on specific cases,” Thayer said by email.

Another new policy under Golik came from a suggestion by defense lawyers: They encouraged him to seek alternatives for defendants involved in drug court. Under the old model, those who completed the therapeutic program were still convicted of a drug offense; Golik changed the policy so that certain drug offenders with no more than two prior convictions could avoid a felony conviction upon successful completion of the program.

Some attorneys have said they wished the changes extended to more defendants.

Even so, the change “is really the best way to break the addiction cycle, and provides the best long-term protection to the community,” Thayer said in his email.

Elder abuse center

Golik said his most important accomplishment last year was the inception of the Elder Abuse Justice Center, a prosecution specialty unit housed in the basement of the prosecutor’s office. Staffed with a part-time coordinator and a deputy prosecutor, this unit targets financial and abuse crimes against vulnerable adults, a crime that Golik has said has been underreported in recent years.

The center, which follows other specialty units in the prosecutor’s office, was one of Golik’s campaign promises.

Since its opening, the center has filed eight new criminal cases.

“The idea is to start it small and conservatively,” Golik said, and gradually build the program.

The program tapped into a reserve fund and didn’t require any new money from the county’s budget. “It was a difficult time to do it, but it’s gotten good feedback,” he added.

A change that has been outside of Golik’s control was the spike in certain crimes. Major crime filings increased from just under 150 in 2010 to nearly 200 last year, and the overall number of felony filings rose from 2,093 to 2,168 over the same period.

The result has been a busier caseload for his top deputy prosecutors and more resources devoted to trials, he said.

Golik couldn’t cite a reason for the upswing, pointing out that the number has ebbed and flowed over the past decade. In 2005, the number peaked at 2,861.

Looking ahead

Perhaps Golik’s biggest test came last summer, when he was diagnosed with Stage 1 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the earliest stage of the disease. He started chemotherapy in October, then, after Thanksgiving, he began radiation treatments.

His radiation treatments are slated to wrap up this week, and so far his prognosis looks good. Doctors haven’t found any other tumors.

Initially alarming to him and his staff, Golik said the treatments took a minimal toll on his ability to do his job. Generally, he didn’t feel many symptoms and only missed a total of two weeks of work.

“I think people were worried at first,” he said. “But they see me here feeling healthy and energetic, and I think they’re more at ease.”

As Golik and chief deputy prosecutor Fairgrieve move forward, they say they plan to continue keeping policies that have worked and transforming guidelines that may be outdated. They see Curtis’ administration as successful and say they only want to build on it.

“Tony is looking at the way of doing things with a fresh set of eyes,” Fairgrieve said. “I think he’s more open to innovation. We’re looking at the better, more efficient way of doing things.”

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts;www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.