Pete Holmes is running for his fourth term as Seattle City Attorney. (Courtesy of campaign)

Pete Holmes is running for his fourth term as Seattle City Attorney. He has been closely involved in issues like gun control, decriminalizing marijuana, and attempts to reform the Seattle Police Department via federal Consent Decree negotiations and related accountability measures. Before first being elected in 2009, Holmes worked in Seattle as a business litigation attorney for almost 25 years. He graduated from Yale College in 1978 and earned his J.D. at the University of Virginia School of Law in 1984. Holmes and his wife Ann live in South Seattle’s Seward Park neighborhood. Check out Holmes’s campaign website for more information.

The Urbanist Election Committee has followed up on our questionnaires with Zoom interviews to fill in the gaps. We released our Primary Endorsements in late June and will release the rest of the questionnaires ahead of the primary voting period opening on July 16th. Primary ballots are due August 3rd. For voter information or to register to vote, visit the State election website.

Below are Pete Holmes’ questionnaire responses. 

What role do you see for the city attorney’s office in addressing the effects of income and wealth inequality in Seattle?

I see the City Attorney’s Office as central to achieving this goal. My office worked in partnership with City Council as they adopted a Seattle income tax on high earners (income over $250,000). We sought to overturn bad precedent from the 1930s by petitioning our State Supreme Court to review the case. Unfortunately, the court chose not to hear the case, leaving a Court of Appeals decision to stand, which authorized a flat income tax, but not a progressive one. It was disappointing, to say the least. I am committed to making further inroads to reverse old and poorly reasoned precedent in support of progressive taxation. There is no shortage of needs, including housing the unsheltered, but solutions should not be placed on the backs of those most vulnerable.

My office is currently aggressively defending Council’s Jumpstart Tax on large employers against a lawsuit brought by the Chamber of Commerce. Those funds are essential to housing those in need and investing in homelessness prevention programs so people won’t become homeless in the first place. 

What role should the City Attorney’s office play in our regional efforts to end homelessness for good?

Plain and simple: we’re not going to move more people inside without more resources to house and support them. 

Seattle isn’t resourced enough to support the entire region’s unhoused population on our own, so it’ll take working in partnership with the newly established Regional Homelessness Authority to aid people county-wide.  My office provides quality guidance regarding the transfer of operations and programs from city agencies to the new authority – a complex process that requires experienced leadership. I’m hopeful that as a region, we will more effectively address the homelessness crisis.  A person living unsheltered one block outside Seattle is just as tragic as someone living within Seattle city limits, and a city boundary shouldn’t be the limit of our society’s assistance.  

Although the Mayor and Council set policy, I’ve strongly supported every past effort to shelter and house those without homes. My attorneys successfully defended 3 separate lawsuits challenging the creation of the South Lake Union tiny house village, in which the Freedom Foundation and the Facebook group “Safe Seattle” were plaintiffs, for example. It’s ridiculous that my attorneys have to spend time defending common sense solutions in the face of conservative opposition, but I’ll continue to do so. 

What do you believe causes crime? 

There is no simple and easy answer to this broad question, though conservative tv news programs may try to misleadingly sell easy solutions. A white color stock market swindler is much different from a mom stealing baby food, and the response to those actions should vary based on the situation. I’ve encountered people who violated local laws due to trauma rooted in their upbringing, lacked access to opportunity, suffered substance abuse or behavioral health issues, lacked positive role models in their psychosocial development, or experienced sheer desperation for survival . Whatever the reason a person chooses to commit a crime, the response should not be homogenous because people’s life circumstances are unique.  My office engages with veterans who suffer PTSD through our therapeutic Veterans Treatment Court or people suffering behavioral health problems are treated through the therapeutic Mental Health Court, in which a jail cell is not considered as a punishment for their offenses; rather, the intervention  is focused on treatment, healing, and moving forward. Sometimes a criminal justice system response is the appropriate avenue in response to a crime, but too often it is relied upon to address failings and lack of investment elsewhere in our society.

Racial bias in prosecutorial charging decisions is a significant driver of disproportionality in the criminal legal system in the state of Washington.  What has your office done/will your office do to ensure that discretion is used in an unbiased manner, and further, that the factors used to make charging decisions are not proxies for race?

I’m proud of my work creating pre-filing diversion programs so a person facing a criminal charge can instead receive intervention services, like behavioral health services, substance abuse treatment, community support, and housing, without a criminal charge ever being filed. We’ve helped countless individuals and reduced the need for incarceration, which traps far too many people of color in cycles of poverty. One program initially had a “victim veto” component, but after learning how racially disproportionate those vetoes were, I ended the practice.  I continue to build on these programs’ success! I often face criticism from conservative interests who urge that I file more criminal cases that I consider “chippy,” or is perhaps more appropriate for a non-profit community diversion program. 

I’m also in the process of establishing an internal review board in my office – an idea originating from the ranks of our frontline prosecutors– that will provide our Criminal Division staff a vehicle to flag potentially problematic arrests and evaluate whether an intervention was affected by conscious or unconscious bias or racial motivation. This concept originated from the ranks of our frontline prosecutors and will give even greater content to the sound exercise of prosecutorial discretion. More to share soon!

How should the City Attorney’s office determine how and whether to charge individuals for actions taken at protests?

Following the anguished demonstrations over the murder of George Floyd and the killing of other unarmed black men by police, it is plain to me that peaceful protestors should not be prosecuted for non-violent or non-destructive offenses, like refusal to move from a roadway. For cases referred involving misdemeanor-level violence or property damage (<$750), however, my prosecutors review each case individually to assess the available evidence, the context of the arrest, and whether a jury of Seattleites would find the person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If a case meets those standards, that’s something my office is likely to act on, whether that’s a referral to a restorative justice non-profit for one-on-one engagement or filing of charges. Fortunately, these types of police reports have been few-and-far-between. My office has only received a single police report involving property damage to a business since protests began last May, with four out of every five police reports being either Failure to Disperse or Obstruction.Persistent, dehumanizing institutional racism is at the heart of people taking to the streets to demonstrate and, provided their conduct is peaceful, they should be free to speak their voice.

What is your vision for the role of alternative courts and diversion programs? What strategies are appropriate to ensure access to these opportunities are equitable?

The criminal legal system disproportionately harms people of color, and for the last several years, I have worked alongside community to develop alternative community-based interventions after a misdemeanor crime has been committed.  Recognizing the lifelong consequences that comes with a criminal record, I worked with Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights to create a Racial Equity Toolkit when developing a new pre-filing diversion program for young people aged 18-24. That meant soliciting ideas and feedback from community and developing a program through a racial equity lens.  By involving the community from the outset, we found a reputable local non-profit, CHOOSE 180, to administer a diversion program grounded in restorative justice principles to meaningfully engage young people before a criminal charge is ever filed. I had community buy-in from the outset, which led to a more thoughtful, comprehensive diversion program that has yielded remarkable results. This program initially included a “victim veto” component, but after learning how racially disproportionate those vetoes were, I ended the practice.

I learned from this success, and again used a Racial Equity Toolkit to develop a diversion program for non-intimate partner domestic violence cases in partnership with a local non-profit, and another is underway for people 25-and-older. 

Seattle City Council has taken a small step towards decriminalizing sex work by striking prostitution and drug traffic loitering laws in June 2020. What are other ways you see working with the legislative branch to decriminalize sex work, both in code and practice? 

I had stopped charging loitering crimes a full two years before City Council rescinded the law last June, for I have long questioned its use as a law enforcement tool. I’m fortunate to have had a forward-thinking Assistant City Prosecutor contribute to the 2018 Reentry Workgroup, which initially made the recommendation, because she helped voice and advance their recommendations in my office. Currently, I’ve directed the Chief of my Criminal Division to pull every outstanding warrant for a person arrested for prostitution, and it’s my intent to ask Seattle Municipal Court to consider quashing the warrants hanging over their heads. I’ve yet to hear of a legislator or Councilmember propose legislation to legalize and regulate sex work to ensure people involved and safe and protected, but I’d be happy to hear their ideas.

Attempts at police reform under the consent decree showed how the mayor’s office, city council, and city departments can have different interests and policy goals in court. How would/do you navigate representing different interests?

It’s been a delicate balance, but I’ve managed to maintain trust throughout when representing all of these City figureheads at the same time before Judge Robart, building upon my extensive experience as a police reformer since my appointment by City Council to Seattle’s first civilian police oversight board in early 2002. The tremendous insight underlying this question, however, underscores the importance of having an independently elected City Attorney with “full supervisory control of all the litigation of the City, or in which the City or any of its departments are interested.” Since entering into the Consent Decree initially in 2012, I have had my hands full discerning a consensus City view of police reform objectives, supporting a full, transparent and vigorous public debate that is evolving even now, especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the tremendous societal challenges laid bare by the pandemic. Perhaps most remarkable has been the revelation that not only is there great diversity of opinion among City leadership and community, those views have changed since 2012–sometimes completely flipping positions on such basic questions as whether it’s time to exit the Consent Decree. Practically every reformer has spoken about the need to change the culture of policing, only to disagree about how to objectively measure cultural change. We’ve examined data, best practices, and debated the “warrior” vs “guardian” models of policing; now Seattle is embarked on a deep reimagining of its policing itself that begs the question whether we will continue to pretend that the criminal legal system can ever provide effective responses to inherent public health and societal problems, double down on the War on Drugs, and leave institutional racism unchecked. I am committed to fearlessly posing the hard questions to all stakeholders, insisting only that we no longer kick the can down the road.

During the Trump administration, many cities and counties across the country were involved in high profile affirmative litigation efforts, but Seattle was less involved than many. Do you think Seattle should expand affirmative litigation to better represent its citizens’ interests regionally and nationally?

Heck, yeah! One of my great frustrations is how little my office is allocated to take on affirmative litigation. The Washington State Attorney General’s affirmative litigation program is financed using the revenues it takes in via their successful lawsuits, and I have great interest in legislative authorization at the legislature for my office to be able to self-fund an affirmative litigation program. Further, last year I parted with the Public Rights Partnership and used grant funding to bring aboard an Affirmative Litigation Fellow and have stood up a small but mighty affirmative litigation unit in my office. I see several areas to affirmatively litigate on the horizon, including a lawsuit against fossil fuel companies for their contributions to climate change-related impacts in the city of Seattle, fighting for worker protections, and more. This work will build on my previously-brought lawsuits, including filing against opioid manufacturers, the Monsanto Corporation for their damage to the Duwamish River, and against Donald Trump over Seattle’s sanctuary city status, the US Census citizenship question, and Seattle’s “anarchist city” designation.

Fill in the blank: Money bail is _______.

in need of legislative reform.

Fill in the blank: Defending the city’s land use decisions is going _______ , because ____________.

well // because I have an awesome team that keeps winning (MHA, ADUs, First in Time, Tiny House Villages, etc)

Article Author
Elections Committee

The Urbanist was founded in 2014 to examine and influence urban policies. We believe cities provide unique opportunities for addressing many of the most challenging social, environmental, and economic problems. We serve as a resource for promoting urbanism, increasing political participation, and improving the places we live. The Elections Committee consists of community volunteers and staff members of The Urbanist and is a standing body representing the political values of our organization.