Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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Kshama Sawant served on the Seattle City Council since 2013. Ernest Lou, among others, filed recall charges alleging that Councilmember Sawant delegated city employment decisions to a political organization outside city government, used city resources to promote a ballot initiative and failed to comply with public disclosure requirements, disregarded state orders related to COVID-19 and endangered the safety of city workers and other individuals by admitting hundreds of people into Seattle City Hall while it was closed to the public, and led a protest march to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s private residence, the location of which Councilmember Sawant knew was protected under state confidentiality laws. The trial court found these charges factually and legally sufficient for recall. Councilmember Sawant challenged the ballot synopsis. The Washington Supreme Court determined petitioner’s charges that Councilmember Sawant delegated city employment decisions to a political organization outside city government and a portion of the charge that Councilmember Sawant’s actions in divulging the location of Mayor Durkan’s private residence amounted to criminal harassment in violation of RCW 9A.46.020 were legally insufficient. The Court affirmed in all other respects, and declined to address the Councilmember's challenge to the ballot synopsis, because RCW 29A.56.140 provided that “[a]ny decision regarding the ballot synopsis by the superior court is final.” View "In re Recall of Sawant" on Justia Law

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The Freedom Foundation was a nonprofit organization that describes itself as committed to “advanc[ing] individual liberty, free enterprise and limited, accountable government in the Evergreen State.” The Foundation brought citizen’s actions against Teamsters Local 117; Service Employees International Union Political Education and Action Fund (SEIU PEAF); and Governor Inslee, the Department of Social and Health Services, and Service Employees International Union 775 for various alleged violations of Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA). In consolidated appeals, the issue common to all was whether the Freedom Foundation satisfied the FCPA’s prerequisites before filing their citizen’s actions. In each case, the superior courts ruled the Foundation failed to meet a 10-day deadline required by the FCPA and, accordingly, entered judgment for respondents. After review, the Washington Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. With respect to the Foundation's suit against the Teamsters Local 117, the Supreme Court determined that though the superior court erred by granting judgment on the pleadings to the union, the court’s entry of judgment would have been proper as summary judgment, and was thus affirmed. This result precluded the Foundation’s other challenges to the superior court’s rulings, which were therefore not addressed. As to the union's cross-appeal of its counterclaim against the Foundation under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Foundation was not a state actor, was not wielding powers traditionally and exclusively reserved to the State, and therefore was not subject to suit under section 1983. View "Freedom Found. v. Teamsters Local 117" on Justia Law

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This case involved a recall petition against Thurston County, Washington, Sheriff John Snaza. Petitioner Arthur West alleged Snaza committed a recallable offense because he stated in a press release that he would not enforce an order issued by the Washington State secretary of health intended to combat the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Snaza appealed the trial court’s conclusion that the recall charge was factually and legally sufficient. The Washington Supreme Court concluded Snaza had discretion and his exercise of discretion (stating he would not criminally enforce the order) was not manifestly unreasonable. Therefore, the recall charge was neither factually nor legally sufficient, and the trial court's decision was reversed. View "In Re Recall of Snaza" on Justia Law

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On November 6, 2020, the Washington Supreme Court entered a unanimous order affirming the superior court’s decision to allow the recall effort against Benton County Sheriff Gerald Hatcher to proceed. Sergeant Jason Erickson filed the petition to recall Sheriff Hatcher after 90 percent of the Benton County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild (Guild) met and unanimously voted to pursue recall. The recall petition alleged 26 separate charges that, assuming the truth of the allegations, illustrated a toxic and authoritarian culture that Sheriff Hatcher created since his appointment in 2017. The Benton County Prosecutor’s Office (BCPO) categorized the 26 allegations into 8 charges for the purposes of the ballot synopsis. The superior court found all charges to be legally and factually sufficient. Sheriff Hatcher appealed this determination as to all charges. The Supreme Court found all charges were legally and factually sufficient. "Recall petitions are read broadly, as a whole, and in favor of the voter. The recall petitioner has alleged facts that, when viewed through that lens, establish a prima facie case of misfeasance, malfeasance, and unlawful conduct for each charge made against Sheriff Hatcher, for which there is no reasonable justification." Accordingly all eight charges contained in the ballot synopsis were allowed to proceed to the voters. View "In re Recall of Hatcher" on Justia Law

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On September 10, 2020, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order affirming the trial court in part and reversing in part a recall petition filed against Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. Sheriff Fortney challenged the trial court’s finding that four of five recall charges filed against him were factually and legally sufficient. Fortney’s first four months in office were beset by multiple controversies. In January 2020, Fortney rehired three deputies who had been terminated by the former sheriff for serious misconduct. In March 2020, Fortney wrote a Facebook post to justify a deputy’s use of physical force on a woman after a jaywalking incident. Then in April 2020, Fortney publicly accused Governor Jay Inslee of mishandling the COVID-19 crisis and stated that he would refuse to enforce the governor’s “Stay Home – Stay Healthy” proclamation. In May 2020, four voters responded to Fortney’s actions by filing multiple recall charges against him, initiating Washington’s recall process pursuant to RCW 29A.56.110-.270. After a hearing at the superior court, the trial court found four of the recall charges were factually and legally sufficient. The court rejected the charge related to the Snohomish County Jail, concluding that the petitioners had not met their burden to allege specific facts and legal standards to show Fortney violated his duties. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's ruling that the incitement charge and the rehiring charge were factually and legally sufficient. Those charges, along with the unchallenged refusal-to-enforce charge, were permitted to proceed to the signature gathering phase. View "In re Recall of Fortney" on Justia Law

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This case involved cross appeals regarding a petition to recall Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan based on events that occurred at protests following the killing of George Floyd. The recall petition alleged Mayor Durkan failed to adequately control the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) response to the protests, allowing the police to use unnecessary force and causing significant harm to nonviolent protesters, local residents, media representatives, and medical aid workers. Of the seven recall charges, six were dismissed by the trial court and one was allowed to move forward. Mayor Durkan appealed the charge that was allowed to move forward, and the recall petitioners appealed the dismissal of two other charges. On October 8, 2020, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order affirming the trial court’s dismissal of two recall charges and reversing the finding that one charge was sufficient for recall. View "In re Recall of Durkan" on Justia Law

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A trial court dismissed a recall petition filed against city of Yakima District 2 Councilman Jason White, wherein he purportedly committed acts of misfeasance and malfeasance, and violated his oath of office by using his position to undermine the State's and Yakima County's responses to the public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 virus. The petition also alleged Councilmember White committed a recallable offense by refusing to attend several city council meetings. In dismissing the petition, the trial judge found Councilmember White had a right to criticize other elected officials’ actions, and the petition failed to specifically identify the standard, law, or rule that Councilmember White allegedly violated. On August 6, 2020 the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal by order with opinion to follow. The Court explained its order. View "In re Recall of White" on Justia Law

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Incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal sued to have the Thurston County Superior Court order the removal of one allegedly defamatory line in the voters’ guide pamphlet from challenger Maia Espinoza’s candidate statement. The superior court agreed that there was a substantial likelihood Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit based on Espinoza’s statement. Using a supervisory power conferred by RCW 29A.32.090(3)(b), the superior court ordered the secretary of state to edit out the offending line. Espinoza sought accelerated direct review, which the Washington Supreme Court granted. Because Reykdal was a public figure, he had to show “actual malice” to succeed in a defamation suit. The Supreme Court found the superior court made no findings regarding actual malice, and thus granted Reykdal’s request in error. Because there was no likelihood that Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court erred in its application of the statute. View "Reykdal v. Espinoza" on Justia Law

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Initiative Measure 976 (I-976) was the latest in a series of initiatives about reducing or eliminating local motor vehicle excise taxes, including taxes that have been pledged to support major transportation projects in Washington state. Authorized regional transit authorities were empowered to ask their voters to approve transportation system proposals and financing secured by local taxes and fees, including local motor vehicle excise taxes. The legislature also empowered local transportation benefit districts and other local governments to impose taxes, including motor vehicle excise taxes, and fees to fund local transportation projects and to seek voter approval for additional funding. I-976 passed statewide with about 53 percent of the vote, though it was rejected by about 53 percent of the voters in the Sound Transit region, about 60 percent of King County voters, and about 70 percent of San Juan voters, who depended heavily on ferries funded by motor vehicle excise taxes. Several counties, cities, associations and private citizens (collectively challengers) challenged I-976’s constitutionality, arguing that I-976 contained multiple subjects in violation of article II, section 19’s single subject requirement. They also argued I-976 violated section 19’s subject-in-title requirement because the ballot title falsely suggested voter-approved motor vehicle taxes would not be repealed. The challengers successfully sought a preliminary injunction in King County Superior Court to block its implementation. The trial judge initially concluded that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the grounds that the ballot title was misleading. The Washington Supreme Court concurred I-976 contained more than one subject, and its subject was not accurately expressed in its title. Accordingly, I-976 was declared unconstitutional. View "Garfield Cty. Transp. Auth. v. Washington" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Washington legislature enacted Substitute House Bill 2887 (SHB 2887), requiring noncharter counties with populations of 400,000 or more to elect five county commissioners by 2022, when originally such counties were required to elect three. SHB 2887 would also require affected counties to fund a redistricting committee to create five districts, one for each commissioner. These counties had to hold individual district elections for these commissioners instead of countywide general elections. Spokane County, former and current Spokane County commissioners, and the Washington State Association of Counties argued this law violated article XI, section 4 of the Washington Constitution, mandating the legislature to establish a uniform system of county government, and article XI, section 5, requiring the legislature to provide for the election of county commissioners through general and uniform laws. The Washington Supreme Court held SHB 2887 was constitutional under article XI, sections 4 and 5: "the legislature may classify counties by population for any purpose that does not violate other constitutional provisions, and SHB 2887 is a general law that properly implements district-only elections for noncharter counties of a certain size." View "Spokane County v. Washington" on Justia Law