By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Six weeks into his tenure as Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney, Payne has added a felony deputy, promoted another, amended charging standards and expedited drug court referrals.
Payne, 57, took the oath of office Jan. 27 after two out of three county commissioners appointed him to serve the last year of former prosecutor Deborah Kelly’s term.
A former assistant state attorney general from Sequim, Payne said his first month-and-a-half on the job was productive and “very busy.”
“It’s what I expected,” he added.
Payne, who intends to run as a Republican for a four-year term as county prosecutor later this year, said he was “very honored” to represent the county and its citizens.
With the addition of new felony deputy Paul Conroy, the prosecutor’s office is now able to charge stand-alone Class C felony drug possession crimes.
“We’re charging all felony possession of controlled substance now,” Payne said.
Previously, many felony drug possession cases were diverted back to the city where they originated for prosecution as a misdemeanor.
Felony diversions became a common practice as the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office dealt with staff shortages and financial pressures in recent years.
City attorney’s offices do not have the authority to prosecute felony cases, and the city of Port Angeles stopped accepting diversions last fall because of high costs.
Payne said he changed the standards for felony drug possession cases because of a “big drug problem on the Peninsula.”
“People are breaking into houses and stealing to fund their drug habit,” he added.
In a related move, Payne has hastened referrals to drug court.
Drug court is a diversion program offered by superior court that helps drug-addicted offenders get sober.
If a defendant stays clean for a least a year and completes the requirements of the program, the original charges are dismissed.
“We’re offering most defendants, if they qualify, the drug court opportunity sooner in the process,” Payne said.
Instead of a defendant waiting months to get into drug court, referrals are being made at arraignment.
“The plan is to get people into drug court early on,” said John Troberg, the county’s new chief criminal deputy.
Payne listed each of the deputy attorneys at the county commissioners’ meeting Tuesday.
Nearly all of them were retained from the Kelly’s staff.
The attorneys are:
■ Troberg, chief criminal deputy.
Troberg began working as a felony deputy in the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in October 2009. He was promoted to chief criminal deputy effective March 1.
“John is a very experienced attorney,” Payne said.
“He’s been an attorney for 30-plus years. He’s worked in federal court, in King County, Snohomish County, Skagit, Stevens County, Ferry County, Spokane County and also here.”
■ Tracey Lassus, juvenile deputy.
Lassus has been a county attorney for more than nine years.
“Tracey is a statewide-recognized expert in juvenile court,” Payne said.
■ Lew Schrawyer, appeals deputy.
A former deputy district court prosecutor, Schrawyer has handled more than 80 appeals in various courts, including the state Supreme Court, Payne said.
■ Jonathan Luke, district court deputy.
Luke was hired by Kelly last November.
He worked in Snohomish County prior to his arrival, and practiced in Guam before that, Payne said.
■ Jesse Espinoza, felony deputy.
Espinoza arrived in Clallam County in 2009 after a stint in Grays Harbor County.
“He’s doing a great job for us,” Payne told commissioners.
“He’s in trial today. That’s why he’s not here.”
■ Kim Ortloff, civil deputy, family support and drug court representative.
“She works with me as a civil deputy part time,” Payne said.
“Kim volunteered to step up and do that until we fill our permanent vacancy in the civil area.”
■ Alexandrea Schodowski, felony deputy.
Schodowski began as a contract deputy in district court about three years ago.
She excelled in that role and soon became an employee, Payne said.
Schodowski moved from district court to superior court last November.
■ Paul Conroy, felony deputy.
Conroy began work Monday as Clallam County’s newest deputy prosecutor.
He arrives from Grays Harbor County, where he worked as a senior deputy prosecutor and a part-time municipal court judge for the city of Aberdeen, Payne said.
“We’re very glad to have him,” he added.
Troberg said his new colleague brings a wealth of experience prosecuting sex crimes.
“We’re absolutely delighted to have him on board,” he said.
“We now have enough staffing that we’re able to go back and start prosecuting stand-alone drug cases.”
Payne, who is working a combination of criminal and civil cases, is in the process of hiring one more civil deputy to round out his roster of attorneys.
He said he was able to add a felony deputy position by shifting funds in the budget.
Two civil lawyers — Brian Wendt and Chief Civil Deputy Mark Nichols — have left the Prosecuting Attorney’s office in recent months.
Nichols was appointed as county hearings examiner and court commissioner, while Wendt left county employment.
Kelly resigned effective Dec. 31 for family reasons. She had been the county’s top prosecutor since January 2003.
Commissioners Mike Doherty and Jim McEntire voted to appoint Payne to the position on Jan. 14.
Commissioner Mike Chapman opposed the nomination, lending his support to Nichols, who also interviewed for the position.
Nichols had served as Kelly’s chief deputy since 2006 and was the acting prosecutor between Jan. 1 and Jan. 27.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.