Saturday, May 18, 2024

Fighting for justice

Staff Writer | April 16, 2024 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — After more than 30 years in law, Wes Somerton is done.

Monday was his last day as the city of Coeur d’Alene’s chief criminal deputy city attorney as he steps into retirement.

He sees his influence not in winning any particular case or getting guilty verdicts or a convincing closing argument, but rather, in instilling those around him with a desire to do their best. 

“When we’re tired, we need to work harder,” Somerton said in a recent interview with The Press. “If we cut corners, people get hurt.”

Law officers and citizens, he added, are counting on the city’s attorneys. Safety is at stake.

“Always looking to improve,” Somerton said. “I think that’s the goal. I’m proud of being able to do that.”

Somerton has been with the city’s attorney's office for more than two decades. His boss, City Attorney Randy Adams, praised him for his leadership, knowledge and professionalism.

That’s not just his opinion. Several judges came to Somerton’s retirement party to wish him well and congratulate him on a stellar career. 

“He was not only the chief prosecutor for the city, but he lent his wealth of knowledge in general municipal law to me and to the former city attorney,” Adams said. “It amazed me how much he knows about the city he served so well, its people, its history, and all aspects of city business.”

Adams said he could not overestimate how valuable Somerton’s insight has been on matters pertaining to the civil side of municipal law.

“He was a joy to work with and to watch in action,” Adams said. “His character — which included generosity, humility, work ethic, and sense of humor — is a model I can only hope will be emulated by everyone in the legal department today and in the years to come.”

Somerton grew up in Boise. He began his career at a private firm in Sandpoint as an intern in 1991, while attending law school at Gonzaga University. There, he handled public defense contracts and prosecution for Bonner County and also helped with municipal functions.

Somerton was the city attorney for Sandpoint from 1997 to 2000 before joining the city of Coeur d’Alene as a temporary assistant city attorney in December 2000. His position became permanent in January 2001. 

He became a deputy city attorney in 2002 and the chief criminal deputy city attorney in 2006. He led the criminal division of the City Attorney’s Office for 18 years and supervised and mentored a staff of up to five other attorneys, five legal assistants, one receptionist, many legal interns and externs and one volunteer victim’s advocate, according to a press release.

The criminal division handles over 2,000 new cases every year, involving drinking and driving, domestic violence, battery and assaults, property crimes and drug-related offenses, among many other misdemeanors and infractions. 

“Somerton is a consummate professional, with exceptional skills and vast experience in prosecuting a wide range of crimes, including some very high-profile matters that made national news,” the release said.

Despite a full caseload, Somerton contributed to a cause close to his heart: combating domestic violence and advocating for victims throughout Idaho. 

He is chair of the Idaho Council on Domestic Violence and Victim Assistance. He also previously served as the chair of the committee for the Oversight of Domestic Violence Offender Intervention programs and standards. 

Somerton said he considers his efforts in domestic violence — prosecuting cases, protecting victims, his role on councils — as among his most important. It has affected how courts, prosecutors and law officers deal with domestic violence situations.

“More than anything else, that’s the biggest impact that I’ve been able to help the city of Coeur d’Alene bring to our community,” he said.

But Somerton doesn’t want the credit. 

He considers himself fortunate to have worked with professionals who work hard every day for the taxpayers, do their jobs well and look out for the best of the community.

“A lot of times I’m just the guy sitting in the chair," he said. "There’s a whole team beside me.”

Those in the prosecutor's office are not paper pushers, Somerton said. 

“We’re people that need to be engaged in people’s lives to make the system better, finding justice," he said. "And justice doesn’t equal a conviction. Justice is that long-term gain. Can we make homes safe? Can we make families safe? That’s a long-term gain."