Truth Squad in the City Attorney's Race: The Tuna Fish Case Exists!

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Among the charges and countercharges in the mud-slinging City Attorney's debate last Thursday was the curious one about the tuna fish caper. Challenger and former bankruptcy attorney Pete Holmes, whose low-key manner belies his pointed criticism, claimed that incumbent Tom Carr's office recommended a nine-month sentence for a defendant charged with stealing a can of tuna fish. Holmes' point: Much as Carr talks about reducing the jail population, his draconian polices have had the opposite affect. The City Attorney blasted back that he was "flabbergasted" by his rival's "half-truths, lies and distortions." To wit: "The tuna fish case, that is an urban legend."

Two days later, after Seattle Weekly passed on a case citation provided by Holmes--that of one Jeffrey Caldwell, who was charged with theft in the spring of 2003--Carr conceded that the tuna fish case exists. Writing about it on his blog on Saturday, Carr fails to address what his office recommended, noting merely that the defendant ultimately received a 31-day sentence. In fact, though, Carr had already conceded the nine-month recommendation in a 2004 memo to Councilmember Nick Licata that responded to questions about the city attorney's policies and their effect on the jail population. "As I recall the defendant at issue failed in his obligations [to Mental Health Court]," he wrote at the time, referring to the court that reduces sentences for defendants who undergo treatment and abide by other conditions. In his blog post, Carr offers much more information that Holmes neglected to mention, and it's pretty interesting.

"The defendant had a mile-long rap sheet," Carr writes. To be exact, he says, Caldwell (whom Carr gives the pseudonymous name of Charlie Tuna) had racked up 50 convictions in Seattle Muni Court by the time of the tuna fish theft. His record also contained 18 misdemeanor convictions from elsewhere and six felonies. Not as many as renowned serial offender and drug dealer Stacy Earl Stith, profiled earlier this year by Rick Anderson, but still an impressive record.

So was the nine-month recommendation of jail time warranted? Carr argues his office's approach worked. Caldwell wasn't caught reoffending again until he was charged this year with stealing a textbook. Yet, since the judge rejected the prosecutor's recommendation and gave 31 days instead, it would seem that a lot less jail time was responsible for Caldwell's limited success.

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