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Senate committee updated on DOC investigation on early release of prisoners

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The Senate Law and Justice Committee heard an update Wednesday evening from the lawyer they hired to investigate the state Department of Corrections.

In January, the committee issued two subpoenas to the DOC and governor’s office for records related to the mistaken early release of 3,200 prisoners.

Attorney Mark Bartlett

Attorney Mark Bartlett with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP law firm was hired by the Senate to investigate the mistake.

Separately, the governor has launched his own investigation led by two former federal prosecutors.

Bartlett told committee members the first focus of the investigation is reviewing 54,000 documents they received from the DOC. He said that’s been challenging.

Instead of the documents being organized into a database, all the documents were released in PDF format — which Bartlett described as “tedious” process.

“I’m not implying that this is intentional of the DOC to slow the process,” Bartlett said. “It’s not the greatest system in the world.”

He said even more problematic is that when his team is looking through emails — one of the key focuses of the investigation — they’ve found multiple emails from different people in one document, rather than one email per document.

“The ability to actually go in and pull emails from relevant time periods from specific individuals has been hampered,” he said.

The second element of the investigation is looking at the big picture, Bartlett said. The investigation aims to look the “interplay between standard time, enhanced time, good time and early release time,” he said, along with discovering who was involved with calculating prisoner sentences.

“I think when you first look at the system, it’s complex,” he said. “I also understand that if you deal with this on a day-to-day basis and you’ve done this for years and that actually you know how to do that calculation.”

The two investigators hired by the governor have interviewed DOC employees. Bartlett said he’s requested their notes from those interviews, but he’s not anticipating receiving them.

Bartlett said his team will not interview dozens of DOC employees, but instead “try and focus on who we believe are the most relevant people to talk to.”

He said the Senate investigation will build off of the report from the governor’s office, expected to be released in a couple weeks. He assumes that there will be overlap in discoveries.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, asked Bartlett if he thought that higher management within the DOC knew about the computing error prior to 2012. Bartlett said that that’s still an open question at this point. He said that there was indication that people knew, but that they can’t be sure who was at different meetings where it was discussed.

“The issue was something that was brought up periodically, both within the IT department and on the prison calculation side of it,” he said.

Bartlett said that as of Monday, the investigative team has conducted about $20,000 worth of work. The Senate set a billing cap at $50,000.

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, asked Bartlett if he thought $50,000 would be inadequate. Bartlett replied that that was “definitely a possibility.”

According to Bartlett, attorneys charge at $325 an hour and paralegal $225 an hour. He said his normal hourly rate is $615.

At a press conference Thursday Gov. Jay Inslee said that the two investigators he hired are making “really good progress.” He said that there are some individuals he thinks carry “substantial responsibility,” in the DOC error.

“A lot of politicians when something goes wrong like this they just lop off somebody’s head and throw it down the street,” he said. “That’s not good enough. I want to know everybody that is responsible for this. And I want to make sure we get the right people.”

He said that the investigation could go over the 60 day limit he set in December.

Watch the TVW video of the hearing here.