State officials early this year moved to fix incorrect language on a court sentencing form that since 2008 improperly reduced community supervision and treatment time for some Washington sex offenders.
But newly released documents reveal the problem was brought to the attention of some in the courts and corrections systems in 2010 — and they did nothing to correct it.
The documents include an email between state workers raising the possibility of a problem, as well as a meeting agenda where questions about the sentencing form were scheduled to be raised.
The felony judgment and sentencing form was used in some counties for the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative, a program designed to lessen the chance for a repeat crime by certain first-time felony sex offenders considered a low risk to the community.
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Incorrect language on the court form improperly subtracted the length of jail time given to SSOSA offenders from the length of their suspended sentence. That affected how officials then calculated the amount of community supervision the offenders were to receive.
Court officials fixed the form in January, and the state Department of Corrections reviewed the sentences of offenders currently in SSOSA. The review found that the incorrect forms had shortened community supervision and treatment time for at least 73 sex offenders.
The review found 32 other offenders who were supervised for too long because of the error. After the discovery, monitoring for them was ended.
Since the review covered only offenders in the program at the time, it’s unclear whether any offenders were actually released early from supervision.
The newly released documents show that some were concerned about the problem back in 2010.
That summer, then-Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larson wrote an email to Merrie Gough, a senior legal analyst with the Administrative Office of the Courts. It was titled “SSOSA J & S form confusion re. length of community custody” and two DOC staffers were copied on it.
Larson, who couldn’t be reached for comment, wrote in her email that the court form contained “what appears to me to be conflicting language.” She also gave a brief description of a possible miscalculation problem and provided a copy of the erroneous court-forms language.
In another email, Larson described the incorrect court form as possibly having “ambiguous language.”
She suggested the Administrative Office of the Courts review the form and make changes to it.
After Larson’s email, the issue was put on the agenda of a November 2010 subcommittee meeting of the AOC’s Pattern Forms Committee, which is responsible for drafting and approving court forms in response to changes in law made by state legislators.
The SSOSA issue is listed toward the end of the agenda, posed as a question: “Ronda — Any ambiguous language we need to address on the J & S form SOSA?”
Background materials prepared for the meeting and released with the agenda contain one of Larson’s emails raising the issue.
But no action to fix the forms ever came out of that meeting, according to Lorrie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The issue of “confusing language was likely discussed, but no changes were recommended,” Thompson wrote in an email.
Gough doesn’t recall discussion of the court form in the 2010 meeting, according to Thompson. Two people who sat on the subcommittee at that time also say they don’t recall discussion of the SSOSA court form.
“I don’t have an independent recollection,” said Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Gary Bashor, who at that time served as a court commissioner.
“I don’t have any recollection at all,” said Travis Stearns, who at the time was deputy director of the Washington Defender Association.
The court doesn’t keep meeting minutes for the subcommittee, according to Thompson, so there’s no formal record of the discussion.
A set of informal meeting notes kept by Gough and obtained by The Seattle Times shows check marks and brief notations around some issues listed on the agenda, but not the SSOSA issue.
The Senate Law and Justice Committee is scheduled to discuss the court-forms error in a work session Thursday, according to Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley and chair of the committee.