An interview with Shawn Sant, Franklin County Prosecutor and WAPA 2020 President

Number of employees you oversee: 26

Brief background of what the Prosecuting Attorney’s office does:

The prosecutor’s office handles all legal matters for Franklin County. This includes criminal prosecution for all felony crimes occurring within Franklin County, as well as misdemeanor crimes occurring outside of the city of Pasco.

Pasco has its own municipal court.

The prosecutor’s office also represents Franklin County on all legal matters and provides legal advice to Franklin County elected officials and departments.

How did you land your current role? How long have you been in it?

I have served as the elected prosecutor since 2011, following the 2010 November elections. The position is a four-year term and I am currently serving my third term.

What should Tri-Citians know about county prosecutors?

Prosecutors are independently elected in each county so Washington has 39 elected county prosecutors.

Each prosecutor’s office may have different policies relating to eligibility for therapeutic courts (drug court, veterans court, mental health courts, etc.) and charging standards for certain crimes.

Benton and Franklin counties share an adult and juvenile drug court and each prosecutor agrees to admissibility standards.

As the Franklin County prosecutor, I make myself available to meet with citizens who have questions about legal proceedings, office prosecution standards, as well as any questions about how we handle cases.

County prosecutors are elected so they are directly responsible to the citizens of their respective counties.

Prosecutors also serve in variety of committee assignments in the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, or WAPA.

I was elected by my peers to serve as president of the WAPA board this year. This will provide me the opportunity to work with the other 38 elected prosecutors and their respective counties, as well as with our executive director.

WAPA coordinates statewide training (continuing legal education, or CLEs) for all prosecuting attorneys including deputies. All members of the Washington State Bar must maintain regular CLEs to maintain their license.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Every leader should be a good listener. I never claim to have all the answers but I have great people who work with me and together we have tackled a variety of different issues and challenges.

I make myself available to all my staff, and we continue to work on improving communication so that we can improve our working environment and services to the public.

What is the biggest challenge facing you as a manager today?

One of the biggest challenges we have as public servants is maximizing public and customer service while working on limited budgets, keeping in mind every dollar we spend has come from the taxpayers.

Our community continues to grow which has increased the workflow in our office. We are always looking at ways to maximize efficiency while protecting the public both on the criminal side as well as the civil side.

We work with the various county departments to ensure they have the legal services necessary to perform their job in their respective offices.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your field?

I would like to see more opportunities on the prevention side rather than dealing with societal failures of treating mental illness, drug addiction and challenges in obtaining appropriate housing.

What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

Recognize that every individual in your organization has something to offer. As a leader, we need to promote a culture where our team members feel valued and recognize the rewards in meeting the goals of the organization.

Provide a sense of pride representing the organization and allowing team members to feel the same way through proper mentoring within the organization.

Who are your role models or mentors?

Ronald Reagan.

I remember as a kid watching his State of the Union addresses and admiring his ability to speak to the people. He was personable and respectful, even with those who opposed his policies or positions.

This appears to be missing from today’s political environment.

How do you keep your employees motivated?

I enjoy the work I do and feeling that I am making a difference in my community.

I enjoy discussing cases and challenges with our team members and making them a part of solving problems. I try to instill similar core values I grew up with and followed in the Air Force: Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.

I lead by example and create the expectation of similar values from all team members.

How did you decide to pursue the career that you are working in today?

I have always enjoyed personal interactions with people and attempts to keep the peace. I served as a reserve police officer with the Richland Police Department while I attended Columbia Basin College in pursuit of a criminal justice degree.

I went full-time into law enforcement when I accepted a job with the Prosser Police Department. A few years later I entered active duty in the Air Force with the idea of eventually becoming a prosecutor.

I started my legal career as a deputy prosecutor in the same office and decided to run as the elected prosecutor a few years later.

My current position has given me the opportunity to work with other community groups, elected officials, crime victims, and other community members on solving challenges in criminal justice.

How do you measure success in your workplace?

Watching and observing team members interact with each other, members of the community and feedback from community members who have had interaction with my office.

I recognize we cannot please everyone in this business, but we can ensure they have an opportunity to be heard and that they are treated fairly and with respect.

What do you consider your leadership style to be?

I like empowering those who work with me so that they have ownership in the cases they are assigned.

While I am ultimately responsible for how every case is handled in the office, I want my team members to take on cases in which they may have an interest, feel challenged, and rewarded as they come up with solutions and recommendations.

I listen to my team members who have put in time and effort and who have become vested in the best outcome on a case. We discuss cases regularly as we determine the best resolutions possible in pursuit of justice.

How do you balance work and family life?

The job is very challenging and demanding. Having a very supportive wife and children is required for my success. We try to have dinner as a family each night.

This is a challenge not only with my schedule but with our kids’ schedules as well. This evening time together is important. We enjoy our family time together at home and participating in various events in the community.

What do you like to do when you are not at work?

I enjoy cycling and the outdoors when the weather is good. I have my pilot’s license and enjoy flying. When my schedule allows, I join a friend of mine in a King Air 350.

I have enjoyed flights up to Canada and Alaska in the right seat. I also enjoy a good book or movie, especially when based on significant historic events and/or untold true stories.

What’s your best time management strategy?

Prioritizing daily and weekly tasks is probably the best way of characterizing my time management although I’m sure it would fall short of Franklin Covey standards. I am a people person and want to be flexible meeting with people even when an appointment is made last minute.

You have to be flexible in this position as urgent tasks may arise without notice and you do the best to prioritize and reevaluate daily tasks as necessary.

Best tip to relieve stress?

Leave work at the office the best I can. This is a challenge for a job that involves call outs to scenes, phone calls after hours, and stressful trials but mentally separating from the legal work at the end of the day is a must.

Keeping active with church and community work is a great way to stay positive in an often negative environment dealing with some of life’s most horrific situations. Enjoying time with family matters most so I try to make the best of it when I can.

What’s your most-used app? Favorite book?

I really enjoy the Libby app available through Mid-Columbia Libraries which makes checking out a book in print or audio a breeze. I enjoy the flexibility and mobility of audiobooks.

One of my favorite books, both in print and audio, was “A Higher Call” by Adam Makos. A great story about honor among World War II pilots who were in very difficult situation during the war over Germany.

The amazing part was how these two pilots met decades later in Seattle to share their stories.

Do you have a personal mantra, phrase or quote you like to use?

“Justice is not about winning; it’s about getting it right!” Too often the courtroom is viewed as a winner take all at whatever costs necessary. As a prosecutor, we have an ethical obligation to ensure the rights of defendants are protected while at the same time protecting the rights of victims. Justice is our goal.

What is the most misunderstood aspect of being a prosecutor?

One of the misunderstood positions is that prosecutors only want to throw people in prison and don’t care about those struggling with mental illness or drug addiction.

We certainly have a large number of cases where we know the only appropriate resolution is sending the defendant to prison, but we also have cases where mental illness or drug addiction played a significant role in the criminal behavior.

Fortunately, we have a few options in our courts in the Benton and Franklin county jurisdictions. Benton and Franklin counties share a drug court program.

Franklin County also has a felony diversion program that is run through our District Court.

We prioritize participation in felony diversion primarily for first-time felony offenders.

This requires repayment of restitution, and/or participating in drug treatment and/or relevant counseling services. It is a great opportunity to ensure crime victims are repaid in a timely manner and also to provide treatment to defendants willing to participate in such programs. This is a win-win situation as we have seen recidivism drop significantly by those completing the program.