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Klickitat County commissioners tap assistant PA as new county prosecutor

Tim O'Neill is unanimous choice to succeed Republican PA Jim Hagarty; takes office Nov. 1

Tim O'Neill, who has been serving in the Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney's Office as chief deputy prosecutor for civil matters, has been promoted.

In a unanimous decision announced on Oct. 4, the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners voted to appoint O'Neill to the Prosecuting Attorney's position.

The appointment was needed to fill the vacancy created when incumbent Prosecuting Attorney Jim Hagarty accepted a new position as assistant U.S. attorney in Yakima. Hagarty leaves at the end of October.

O'Neill will assume his new duties on Nov. 1, and will serve for the next 14 months.

O'Neill, 47, first began working for the Prosecuting Attorney's Office in May 1999. He said he realized the duties of the new office would be challenging.

"In a way I'm very happy and in another way, there is a tremendous amount of responsibility to the county and all the people here," O'Neill said. "It's a very sobering thought and a great responsibility that a chief prosecutor has. It is amazing all the things you have to do in terms of dealing with the public, getting information to the media, providing service effectively to the public."

O'Neill, a Republican, was selected over two other Republican candidates who expressed interest in the office: Gene Hanson, a Goldendale attorney, and Peter Banks, chief criminal deputy in Skamania County.

Only Republicans were considered because Hagarty was a Republican. By law, his replacement must come from the same political party.

Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck noted that the selection process was difficult.

"The bottom line is, we had three very qualified candidates," said Struck. "But I think the staff of the Prosecuting Attorney's Office and the current prosecutor (Hagarty) were four-square in Tim's corner, and that makes the easiest transition. We're pretty confident he was the man for the job."

Struck pointed out that, because of his years of experience as chief criminal deputy, O'Neill is familiar with the staff and the staff is familiar with him.

An election to determine who will fill the Prosecuting Attorney's position will be held in November 2002.

O'Neill said he hasn't yet considered whether he will run for a full four-year term when the office is up for election next fall.

"I've not made that decision yet," he said.

O'Neill earned an advanced law degree from Tulane University in 1981. Before coming to Klickitat County, he had been practicing maritime law in the Seattle area.

He pledged to continue the professionalism Hagarty has shown following his election as county prosecutor in 1998.

"I want to keep the record set by Jim in terms of having criminal matter actively pursued and prosecuted," O'Neill said. "I want to maintain what we already have here and try to fine-tune it. Jim took office and improved it greatly. I want to take that record and improve on it."

He pointed out that serving the public was at the top of his agenda.

"We are here as the people's attorney," O'Neill said. "We're prosecutors, not persecutors. We have to defend the citizens' interests in the county, and we have to respond to the needs of the community. We want to be seen as aggressive prosecutors, and also want to be responsive to civil matters involving the county. Some people may think they are boring, but many civil issues are very important to the legal and economic future of the county."

O'Neill lives in Goldendale.


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