by Mark Neuman

We sat down recently for a talk with King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

Dan joked while recollecting his days playing both offense and defense for Highline High School’s football team in the late 1970’s.

“We were a small team, but we were slow.”

The Pirates won, perhaps, four games during the three years Dan was there.

“But really, I have to say that learning to lose and learning to do so with some grace and class is part of learning to live,” he said. “I think I may have learned more by being on a losing team than I would have being on a state championship team.”

Dan went on to the University of Washington for his BA in Political Science and a law degree.

“My favorite professor in law school was the one that scared me the most. His name was Arval Morris, a constitutional law professor. He was an intellectual giant,” Dan said. “I was in awe of him because of his ability to analyze and his depth of knowledge.

“He taught us so much about constitutional law and the rules of criminal law and how the government interacts with its citizens. The contract between government and citizens is the Constitution.

“It’s a fascinating area because we continue to define what we mean by that contract. The Constitution is a living, breathing document in my office because we look at Fourth and Fifth and Sixth Amendment issues every day as we analyze cases.

“I love the law, and I see those years in law school as formative years,” Dan added. “The prosecutor has a significant role in moving law in new directions. A prosecutor can actually direct traffic.”

One area where Dan is directing traffic deals with attempting to separate kids from gang activity before they fire a weapon in commission of a crime.

“You would think that when a 16 or 17 year-old youth is caught with a handgun that we would bring to bear all of our resources because this is a giant red flag. ËœWe better pay attention to this kid,'” Dan said. “But the truth is that current state law builds in a tolerance where literally nothing happens until (there are) five felony convictions.

“And only then the kid, by law, would go to a Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration facility, let’s say Echo Glen, for a period of time.

“So the message that we send to a kid is that gun possession is not a big deal.”

Dan Satterberg and The State Prosecutors Association want to change that. They are pressing the Washington State Legislature to make changes to the law during the upcoming legislative session such that a juvenile found in illegal possession of a handgun will “get an immediate response from the system. We don’t wait. The kid gets removed from the community and put into Echo Glen,” he said.

“And while there the juvenile can get help with tried and true programs such as Moral Recognition Therapy which helps him understand his options and the potential consequences of his future actions.”

Dan greets one of the courthouse companions.

Dan spoke about the relatively new Canine Companion Program which involves having a dog in the courthouse to help calm the nerves of those going through the legal process.

“We have a dog in our office. Her name is Ellie, a six year-old Golden Lab. Ellie’s full time job is to come in and lay on the floor and look up at you with doe eyes. She puts kids at ease. We use her with our elder abuse cases as well.

“Once we got Ellie on board we realized this is an essential part of what we need to do to put witnesses and victims at ease. We have a lot of children who come into our office to talk about sexual abuse that happened to them or some scary moment, and when they see the dog all of a sudden everything’s okay. And they want to come back to see Ellie again.

“We even bring the dog up to drug court. Ellie will put her head in the lap of someone who may be heading to prison because they screwed up.

“Ellie doesn’t discriminate. Ellie loves everybody.”

The duties of King County Prosecutor involve overseeing a staff of about 500, including 220 attorneys. The Office of the Prosecutor has an annual budget of $56 million.

Those duties fell on Dan’s shoulders quite unexpectedly in the spring of 2007 when long time Prosecutor Norm Maleng died suddenly at the age of 68.

Dan was appointed by the King County Council to serve as prosecutor and subsequently won election to serve the remainder of the full term.

“It was a great honor for me to work with Norm Maleng for 17 years. I was just 29-years old when he selected me to be his chief of staff.

“What I learned from Norm was not so much about the law as about life in general. I started with him shortly after he’d lost his daughter in a tragic sledding accident. So he was in many stages of grief and I learned an awful lot about dealing with people in grief.

“One of the things that he taught me was that every one of the thousands of felony cases we deal with involves a human tragedy, a story of someone’s hurt or loss or suffering.

“Norm would always start out a meeting with a homicide victim’s family by reaching out and saying how sorry he was that this happened to their family. He would say ËœTell me about your son or daughter.’ To make that case and that person alive. The case wasn’t just a file full of papers.

“I try to keep that practice alive. What makes this job so meaningful is the ability to reach out and talk to victims and their families.”

Dan and his wife, Linda, have two children and live in Normandy Park.

When he finds the time, Dan loves rocking out with his pals in their band The Approximations. Here’s info from their website:

Organized by bass player and singer Dan Satterberg (aka the King County Prosecutor), the band includes harmonica player and vocalist Bill Mattocks leader of the Bill Mattocks Band, keyboardist and vocalist Michael Hepburn from the nationally known 80’s R&B group Pleasure; drummer and vocalist Rusty Fallis, guitarist Tom Pratt, guitarist and vocalist John Rankin, percussionist and drummer Fred Staples, vocalists Linda Norman and Michelle Purnell-Hepburn. Tom, Rusty, Dan and John also play and record original songs as the Treehouse Dreamers.  With such a large band and wide array of musical backgrounds, the Approximations are likely to play songs by Smokey Robinson, the Beatles, AC/DC, Savoy Brown, Stevie Wonder, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Fleetwood Mac and Kings of Leon all in the same set.

The Approximations have played their full, multi-faceted, danceable rock sets in Seattle venues such as the Showbox, Showbox Sodo, Mountaineers Club, and the Highway 99 Blues Club entertaining for private functions, special occasions, and benefits for the Domestic Violence Coalition, and the American Cancer society among others.

The band’s website is here, and you can view videos of the band in action here.

You can catch The Approximations at Mick Kelly’s Irish Pub (located at 435 SW 152nd Street in Burien), this Friday night, Sept. 18th:

Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.