He was a kid in foster care. Now he’s the next Snohomish County prosecutor | KUOW News and Information

He was a kid in foster care. Now he’s the next Snohomish County prosecutor

Jun 1, 2018

Adam Cornell is poised to become the next prosecuting attorney for Snohomish County – he’s currently a deputy prosecutor, running unopposed for the position this fall.


One of the defining aspects of Cornell’s life was growing up in Washington state’s foster care system. Another was finally being adopted by loving parents when he was a young adult.

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“I was adopted at 23, and as I’ve often said, you’re never too old to have a happy childhood. And my happy childhood continues still — though not as much lately with the rigors of campaigning for public office,” he said, laughing.

But Cornell does not have an opponent in this campaign. Longtime Snohomish County prosecutor Mark Roe is stepping down. He’s endorsed Cornell, a deputy prosecutor who has been with the office for 15 years, to succeed him.

Growing up, Cornell said that he witnessed how mental illness and addiction could lead people into the criminal justice system.

“I had a family that was wrapped up in much of that,” he said. “My mother, notwithstanding her Herculean efforts to keep our family together, was not able to do that, and I was given up for adoption when I was 8 years old.”

He supports Snohomish County’s drug and mental health courts and other alternatives for low-level offenses because, he said, these are people “who are struggling and who are on the margins.”

But Cornell said that his childhood also taught him how important it is to protect victims of violence.

“There are very dangerous people in our community who need to be separated from society,” he said. “I very strongly believe in giving justice to victims and protecting children and protecting families. As a child I was not always protected, certainly not by my birth father.”

Cornell was adopted at age 14, but that also didn’t last. “Shortly before my high school graduation, my adopted father committed suicide. And at that time I was once again an orphan.”

Cornell was headed to Washington, D.C., for college. A local couple asked him what they could do to help. He had close friends and wanted to stay rooted in the Northwest, but he didn’t have a place to return to during school vacations.

“What I needed was a place to stay when I came home on Christmas break, so they gave me a place to stay, and the relationship ripened over the years,” he said.

He was out of college and serving in the Peace Corps when his now-mother Ann Ramsay-Jenkins asked to formally adopt him. “I was shocked and surprised and flattered and grateful. And said yes immediately. Because I never gave up hope that I would have a family of my own.”

Cornell is now married and has his own family, but he said it was especially vital to have a place to call home as a young adult. He said Washington state has done a lot in recent years to support children who are aging out of foster care.    

Cornell, a Democrat, has been an advocate for new gun laws, including enhanced background checks and raising the minimum age to buy military-style rifles. “My efforts to help reduce the epidemic of gun violence are informed by my prosecution of the gunman in the Mukilteo shootings,” he said. “I responded to the scene of that awful crime.”

In that 2016 shooting, Allen Ivanov killed three classmates at a house party in Mukilteo using an AR-15-style rifle he bought at the Cabela’s in Tulalip. “It is easier for someone to go into a Cabela’s or another sporting goods store and buy an assault weapon than it is to purchase a handgun. And in my mind that doesn’t make any sense,” Cornell said.

Once elected, Cornell said he wants to address addiction and mental health issues in Snohomish County. He said he would also evaluate whether the county should join the City of Everett in its lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. Everett accuses the company of fueling the opioid crisis by knowingly supplying drug traffickers with OxyContin. “Certainly I think it’s worth looking at drug companies and what we can do to hold them accountable,” Cornell said.