Anne Mizuta KCPAO Women in Leadership
This Women’s History Month, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is highlighting some of the depth and breadth of women leaders in our office as part of our “Women in Leadership” series. These profiles are only a few of the many amazing women in our office.
How long have you worked at the PAO?
I started in the office December of 2003.
What is your role in the PAO?
I am the Chair for the Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA) Unit. I joined the unit as a DPA in 2007 and have been Chair for the last 10 years.
The Involuntary Treatment Act Unit handles all the of the civil commitment cases for patients who are in King County treatment facilities. Our practice is civil litigation, but our Unit is in the Criminal Division due to the liberty interests at stake for the patients. Our offices and ITA court rooms are located Harborview campus. When a patient, as a result of a behavioral health disorder (either mental illness or substance use disorder), is a danger to themselves or others, or is too impaired to maintain their own health and safety in the community, we advocate on behalf of the hospital to treat the patient in their facility. This allows patients to be connected to services, receive medication, stabilize, and devise a more thorough discharge plan so they can maintain stability and safety upon release.
There are 10 prosecutors in the ITA Unit, and we have wonderful support staff — three full time paralegals and two family advocates who are also paralegals. We handle approximately 70–80 cases each day and have been covering up to five simultaneous virtual courtrooms daily during the pandemic.
What were you doing before coming to the PAO?
I graduated from the University of Washington Law School in 2001. The year following graduation, I worked as the Director of the Innocence Project Northwest (now known as the Washington Innocence Project), an organization that investigates claims of wrongful convictions and proceeds on cases where they think there is a viable case of innocence.
Following that, I was a bailiff for King County Superior Court Judge Ramsdell in Criminal Presiding. During that time, I met many dedicated, compassionate, and smart DPAs. I was inspired to change my career goals from becoming a public defender, to joining our office instead.
What are some of your goals in regards to the work you do?
One of my largest goals is to improve the behavioral health system in King County and Washington state so that patients and their families can get the services they desperately need. Meeting this goal requires explaining the nuances of the law to the public, to the court, to the hospitals, to lawmakers, and working with numerous stakeholders. There is often friction between what is therapeutically recommended by the hospital for their patients and what can be achieved based on the law or budgetary issues.
I will continue to advocate for necessary services in order to keep the community safe and for helpful changes in the law that would implement the ITA process more efficiently and humanely for patients and witnesses.
I also plan to continue to champion the cause of using service dogs and therapy dogs in the work of the prosecutor’s office. My dog Murphy and I were certified as a pet therapy team and our Unit has tremendously benefited from Murphy’s presence as the “Court Comfort Dog.” Prior to the pandemic, Murphy not only provided a pleasant distraction and calming influence for the ITA witnesses, but he improved our office moral and brought moments of levity and joy to difficult days.
What sort of obstacles have you faced in your field? What was it like dealing with those?
Due to the confidential nature of ITA proceedings and medical records, the work and successes of the ITA Unit are largely under the radar. This can make it difficult for others, including people in the PAO, to recognize the importance of the ITA Unit’s cases.
A lot of the ITA Unit’s success is stabilizing patients at a critical point and preventing patients from committing future harm. This is unique from the work of most units in the PAO which seek justice for harm that has already occurred. Accordingly, I try to continue educating others about the ITA process, what our unit accomplishes, and the services we can provide to the community. I also try to focus on building a strong team of attorneys and support staff that do a tremendous job of supporting one another and boosting one another’s morale.
What advice would you give to other women who are considering a similar career path?
I would definitely tell them to go for it. I have found that working with victims of crime and families of patients in crisis is really rewarding. What is just another case assignment for the prosecutor can be a life changing event for the victim or family with whom you are working.
It is an honor being able to work with an individual and guide them through the criminal justice or ITA system, be their voice and advocate on their behalf. I feel very lucky to have a job where protecting the community and being ethical are the guides of my decision making.
I encourage others not to be afraid of carving your own path. You may get a lot of advice about how to do things, but you can find your own unique passions in your work and you do not have to fit a cookie cutter mold. There are many aspects to our justice system, and they are continuously being redefined. I think it’s critical for our young leaders, men and women alike, to help design those systems and not simply accept what always has been.
Catch up with the entire KCPAO Women in Leadership series on our blog at kcprosecutor.medium.com.