Commissioners up the ante, appoint Samuel to prosecutor’s spot

MONTESANO —- The Grays Harbor County commissioners unanimously chose attorney Vini Samuel to be the next county prosecutor Monday afternoon in what’s become almost a game of poker between the Democrats and the bi-partisan county commissioners.

The big question now is will she accept it?

When Democratic Prosecutor Stew Menefee retired on Sept. 30, it kicked off a nominating process to fill the vacancy, starting with a selection of three candidates by the Grays Harbor Democrats’ precinct committee officers.

Former prosecutor Michael Spencer, also a Democrat, said he was interested in the role, but he couldn’t get the support of enough Democrats to get on the required list to be considered by the county commissioners.

On Oct. 3, Deputy Prosecutor Katie Svoboda had emerged as the top pick of the precinct committee officers, followed by Grays Harbor Democratic Chairman George Smylie, an attorney for the state, and Samuel, an attorney and former Montesano city councilwoman. Both Smylie and Samuel support Svoboda. Menefee has endorsed Svoboda, as have the four House legislators on the Coastal Caucus.

Samuel didn’t say if she would or would not accept the office, but was angry at the commissioners for putting her in this position.

“Earlier, county commissioners told newspapers that Mr. Smylie and myself were unqualified,” Samuel said. “And now they’re offering me the job without interviewing anybody or asking a single question? They didn’t even let me, or anyone else, know there was going to be a vote today. I had questions for them which need to be answered before I can decide how to proceed. I’m disappointed by the behavior of the county commissioners. Katie is, by far, the No. 1 choice of the county Democrats to replace Stew Menefee — and she is also Stew’s choice. So now the county commissioners immediately offered the job to the person who’s No. 3 on the list, somebody they claimed to be unqualified when it suited them politically to say so. They did it without talking to her, to George or to me. As elected officials, they’ve demonstrated bad leadership and bad faith. The county Democrats were right not to trust the Republican county commissioners.”

The Democrats had banked on the idea that the commissioners would automatically pick Svoboda for the role. But the commissioners called that bluff and didn’t.

Gordon is a Democrat and fellow Commissioners Wes Cormier and Herb Welch are Republicans.

“I do know that people are probably wondering why we picked Vini Samuel,” Gordon said at the end of Monday’s meeting. “We think Vini Samuel will do a wonderful job as a temporary prosecutor for the county, which then makes it a fair and even playing field for Katie and Mike and whoever else out there wants to run in 14 months. We’re just going to have Vini on board for that short term so that the prosecutor’s office can keep running smoothly and it gives the choices for our girl Katie and others to do it and let the voters of the Harbor determine who is going to be our long-term prosecutor. I just want to say it’s been a hard choice for us all, but we think it’s best for the county.”

Gordon said that if Samuel declines, he hopes the Democrats will take her name off the list and come back with a new list of names.

If the appointment is still in limbo by the end of November, the whole matter goes to Gov. Jay Inslee for the appointment.

Svoboda was in court Monday afternoon, prosecuting criminal cases on the docket when the commissioners handed down their decision.

“All I want is to get our county prosecutor’s office fully staffed and running,” Svoboda said in an email. “We have a full load of felony cases with a shortage of two prosecutors to handle them. Justice is important to me. The public safety of our citizens is important. I’m disappointed that the county commissioners never even bothered to talk to me before they made this decision. They were happy to talk to me until I was the No. 1 choice to fill the position. People told me they’d made up their minds behind closed doors, and this would seem to confirm it. That’s sad to see. Our democracy is better than this. We should expect better from our elected commissioners. We have a lot of work to do and this only makes our work harder.”