Anita Khandelwal Nominated to Lead King County Department of Public Defense

Prior reporting had indicated that county leaders wouldn’t support her for the job due to her public opposition to the new youth detention center.

King County Executive Dow Constantine has nominated Anita Khandelwal to be the director of the county Department of Public Defense, an agency of 400 employees which serves defendants in King County District and Superior Courts as well as Seattle Muncipal Court.

Khandelwal has served as interim director of the county’s public-defense office ever since her predecessor, Lorinda Youngcourt, resigned in July after Constantine told her he wouldn’t reappoint her due to negative feedback from staff about her leadership. (Specifically, staff complained that she wasn’t proactively taking strong public stances on policy issues.) Prior to that, Khandelwal was the department’s director of law and policy. She joined the department back in 2015.

Constantine’s nomination comes several months after Khandelwal’s longevity as head of the Department of Public Defense was called into question by her public opposition to the new youth detention center in Seattle and the subsequent backlash from county elected leaders. King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove told Crosscut in August that he wouldn’t vote for her if she were nominated, and Constantine allegedly relayed to Khandelwal that she wouldn’t be nominated over her criticism of the project. The controversy also called into question the independence of the public-defense department, which was brought under the umbrella of the county executive branch in 2013.

But now, publicly, Constantine has only praise for Khandelwal: “Anita is the best candidate to lead the Department of Public Defense and the challenging and important work it does every day. I listened to employees and stakeholders who wanted a change at Public Defense, and I am convinced Anita can best fulfill its mission to serve some of the most vulnerable people in our region—people who are personally affected by institutional racism, poverty, mental illness, and marginalization,” Constantine said in a statement released on Oct. 3.

“I am honored and humbled at the opportunity to work on behalf of our clients every day,” said Khandelwal in the release. “I’m excited at the prospect of supporting DPD staff in providing high-quality representation and collaborating with the community and other leaders in advocating for a more just and equitable criminal legal system.”

Khandelwal still needs approval from the county council. Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who chairs the council’s Committee of the Whole, said in a statement that he would move fast to schedule her confirmation hearing. “I commend Executive Constantine for making this nomination; it shows he respects the independence of this office as set forth in our charter and knows that those advancing differing views on critical public-policy issues, shared and debated, are essential in driving change and achieving the better justice-system outcomes for King County residents we all desire,” he wrote.

Councilmember Upthegrove, who previously said he wouldn’t vote for Khandelwal, has changed his tune, texting Seattle Weekly that he was originally concerned with Khandelwal’s “failure to communicate with county leaders before signing a county agency” onto a position that is at odds with the county council. He added that he was “surprised and angry with her poor communication” but has “calmed down since then” and has not yet decided how he will vote.

More in News & Comment

Seattle police car. Photo by Dmitri Fedortchenko, Flickr Creative Commons.
Oversight Group Rebukes Seattle’s Proposed Police Contract

Commissioners say the agreement rolls back reform, but labor groups and Mayor Durkan disagree. Meanwhile, a community activist might sue them.

Metro Revises Timeline for RapidRide Bus Expansion

After originally aiming to build 20 additional fast-service bus lines on high demand routes by 2040, King County Metro has changed its construction timelines and put 13 of those projects on hold.

Rape Allegation Against Sen. Joe Fain Divides King County Council

In a recent interview, Councilmember Kathy Lambert blamed Fain’s accuser for the alleged rape. Then Lambert’s colleagues distanced themselves from her comments.

The Seattle City Council introduced legislation to approve the Seattle Police Officer Guild’s tentative agreement with the city on Oct. 15, 2018. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Will Seattle’s Police Contract Stand the Test of Reforms?

The Seattle City Council introduced legislation to approve a long-awaited agreement, but not everyone seems satisfied.

Paul Allen, shown in 2015. Courtesy of the Herald
Paul Allen Dead at 65

Microsoft co-founder, developer, and philanthropist routinely struggled with cancer.

Le family attorneys Linda Tran and Jeff Campiche stand on either side of Tommy Le’s parents, Hoai Le and Dieu Ho, at the Dat Lat Quan Vietnamese restaurant in White Center on Oct. 14. Photo by Josh Kelety
‘We’re Not Going to Give Up’: Vietnamese Community Rallies for Tommy Le

Over a year after law enforcement fatally shot the 20-year-old Burien resident, family and community members remain galvanized to seek justice.

County Officials to Use Downtown Seattle Jail as Homeless Shelter

The facility will house between 125 and 150 people, allow for 24-hour access, and likely won’t require that individuals be sober to stay there.

Most Read