THE LAST ELECTED SHERIFF - George Janovich
by Rick Sorrels
The name Janovich invariably comes up whenever the issue of an elected sheriff is discussed. Some background is provided for a better understanding:
After graduating from high school, Janovich joined the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office where he served for 30 years. He and his wife also operated Peninsula Ambulance Service for 20 years until they sold it in 1976.
After being elected Sheriff, things started to go bad. A Criminal Complaint was filed against Janovich on Nov 28, 1978 citing specific events occurring in 1977 and 1978. He was Indicted by a Federal Grand Jury on Dec 8, 1978. A Recall Petition was filed on Dec 18, 1978. Janovich contested the Recall with a lawsuit filed on Jan 3, 1979, Janovich v. Herron. In March of 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that the Recall would continue, but, in order to protect Janovich’s Constitutional Rights, the Recall election could not be held until at least 45 days after the Federal trial in San Francisco had concluded.
Janovich and 5 others were convicted of RICO violations (racketeering) in November of 1979. Six other defendants had pled guilty without trial. Janovich was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and served 6 years before he was released. After a successful Recall, Janovich collected a retirement pension from the Sheriff’s Department, both while in and out of prison until he died in 2005 at age 77 with a ruptured appendix after a long history of heart attacks and heart surgery.
The racketeering for which Janovich and the others were convicted focused on protection schemes involving bail bonding and the “night-life” industry (gambling and prostitution) around Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base.
I have not yet found the exact date of the Recall election, but it is quite possible that it was the exact same election that adopted the County Charter in November of 1980. If this was indeed the case, then there is no doubt that Janovich would have been an object of intense discussion among the Freeholders, while Janovich was a convicted felon held in Federal prison while still a sitting Sheriff for Pierce County.
During 1980, the Freeholders would have analyzed the elected v. appointed Sheriff issue every way imaginable. We should not assume that their decision to have an appointed Sheriff was impulsive, it was a far too important a decision for the time. The decision to have an appointed Sheriff was not an isolated one, they completely re-organized the entire County government, doing away with the three-Commissioner system, and creating the existing system of County Council with Executive.
We owe it to the original Freeholders to at least scrutinize their minutes and records to discern their thoughts and rationale before proposing an amendment that would revoke the provisions already approved by the Voters.
Rick Sorrels 24 Feb 2006
PS The Commission discussed the election of the Pierce County Sheriff at its last meeting. See the Tacoma News Tribune article for more coverage.