HISTORIC VANCOUVER COURT HEARING HIGHLIGHTS FEDERAL FOCUS ON SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON
The Honorable Ronald B. Leighton, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Washington, is conducting an historic court hearing at the Vancouver, Washington, Federal Building today. It is believed to be the first time an Article III federal judge has conducted a hearing in Southwest Washington. The hearing in fast-growing Clark County is just one example of increased federal attention to the needs of Southwest Washington.
A steering committee of local and federal officials have been working since 2002, to increase federal law enforcement resources in Southwest Washington. United States Attorney John McKay welcomed Judge Leighton's decision to conduct court in Vancouver saying, "This is a significant step towards bringing justice closer to home for all our state's citizens." The court and other federal agencies are exploring whether certain criminal proceedings will be heard in Vancouver in the future.
Under the leadership of McKay, United States Congressman Brian Baird and United States Marshal Eric Robertson, there have been significant improvements in federal law enforcement efforts in Southwest Washington. The opening of the Federal Investigative Center (FIC) in December 2003, brought more federal investigators to the area and with them more prosecutions of serious offenders. For example, in 2002 there were only a handful of federal cases prosecuted out of the Southwest Washington counties of Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania, and Wahkiakum. In 2003, with increased attention but before the FIC opened, 20 cases were prosecuted. In 2004, with the Federal Investigative Center up and running, the work product tripled to approximately 60 cases. The use of a part-time magistrate judge to issue warrants has freed-up agents for investigations instead of having to make long trips to Tacoma to obtain warrants.
The United States Attorney's Office has made significant changes to make federal prosecutors more accessible to local law enforcement. Prosecution guidelines were adjusted to reflect the priorities of the local communities. Case intake was streamlined so local prosecutors could get immediate access and quick decisions. Federal prosecutors organized training sessions in local communities on federal gun laws, cyber crime, criminal enterprises and federal sentencing issues.
One area of great concern to local law enforcement is the prosecution and deportation of illegal aliens involved in criminal activity. Prior to the increased federal focus, illegal aliens were offending and being released back into the community. In 2004, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted 140 administrative arrests and deportations, and 20 were referred to the United States Attorney's Office as aggravated cases to be prosecuted as the federal felony of Illegal Reentry After Deportation.
Another focus area is gun crime under Project Safe Neighborhoods. Project Safe Neighborhoods is a nationwide commitment to reduce gun crime in America by networking existing local programs that target gun crime and providing those programs with additional tools. In 2004, the United States Attorney's Office prosecuted 20 illegal gun and armed career criminal cases investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms & Explosives (ATF). Working with local law enforcement in Cowlitz County, the United States Attorney's Office prosecuted 20 illegal gun and armed career criminal cases investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF). The U.S. Marshal's Service joined with local law enforcement for "Project Fist," which cleared 140 local arrest warrants and resulted in the apprehension of 60 fugitives from Clark and Cowlitz counties.
Many changes, large and small, have come together to improve the communication and coordination among the law enforcement agencies in Southwest Washington. At this time the only hearings in Vancouver will be on civil lawsuits. The court will decide whether criminal matters should be conducted in Vancouver after consulting with a number of interested parties such as the Marshal Service and the Federal Public Defender. The hearing today by Judge Leighton is yet another step in efforts to better serve the people of Southwest Washington.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington, at 206-553-4110.