Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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C Davis sought to recall Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Davis filed five recall charges alleging that Governor Inslee violated the separation of powers, infringed on a number of constitutional rights, and improperly exercised emergency powers when issuing proclamations in response to the COVID -19 pandemic. In order to be placed on the ballot, a recall charge must be legally and factually sufficient to demonstrate an elected official’s malfeasance, misfeasance, or violation of the oath of office. The Washington Supreme Court held that the charges put forth by Davis were not legally or factually sufficient. View "In re Recall of Inslee" on Justia Law

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Lori Shavlik sought to recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. Her petition was the fourth to recall Sheriff Fortney since he took office on January 1, 2020. As the fourth attempt to recall Sheriff Fortney, the charges in Shavlik’s current petition overlapped with charges brought in previous recall petitions. Shavlik raised three issues on appeal: (1) the trial court erred by finding charges 3 through 8 insufficient; (2) the trial court erred by finding charges 1(e) and 2 barred under res judicata; and (3) the trial court and the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office deprived her of a fair and impartial hearing. After review, the Washington Supreme Court rejected all three claims of error, affirmed the trial court, and awarded Sheriff Fortney costs on appeal. View "In re Recall of Fortney" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on the amount of reimbursement that counties were entitled to from the State for costs associated with purchasing, installing, and operating additional ballot boxes. In order to answer that question, the Court first had to consider the relationship between RCW 29A.40.170 (the ballot box statute), RCW 29A.04.430 (the reimbursement statute, or "Section 430"), and RCW 43.135.060 (the unfunded mandate statute). The Supreme Court held Section 430 controlled over the unfunded mandate statute and provided reimbursement only of the State’s proportional share for the costs of compliance with the ballot box statute. Further, the Court held that the 2020 amendment of Section 430 did not violate article II, section 37 of the Washington Constitution and that respondents Snohomish, Kittitas, and Whitman Counties could not claim any vested right that would require the Court to invalidate the retroactive effect of Section 430. The Court therefore reversed the order granting partial summary judgment and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Wash. State Ass'n of Counties v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether the penalty for intentionally concealing the source of political contributions could be based on the amount concealed. Washington voters proposed and passed Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA or act), ch. 42.17A RCW. The FCPA compels disclosure and “compelled disclosure may encroach on First Amendment rights by infringing on the privacy of association and belief.” In 2012, California voters were presented with Proposition 37, which would have required some manufacturers to disclose whether packaged food contained genetically modified organisms (GMO). The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) and many of its member companies successfully campaigned against Proposition 37, and some received negative responses from the public for doing so. In the wake of the Proposition 37 campaign, Washington sponsors filed Initiative 522, which also would have required GMO labels on packaged food. And like Proposition 37, GMA opposed it. GMA raised more than $14 million to oppose GMO labeling efforts. GMA in turn contributed $11 million to the “No on 522” campaign from the Defense of Brands strategic account. Despite its political activities in Washington, GMA did not register as a political committee with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) and did not make any PDC reports until after this lawsuit was filed. In response to the suit, GMA registered “under duress” but, as of the time of trial, still had not filed all of the required reports. The State sued, contending that GMA intentionally, flagrantly, and repeatedly violated the FCPA. The trial court specifically rejected testimony from GMA officers that they had not intended to violate the law, finding “it is not credible that GMA executives believed that shielding GMA’s members as the true source of contributions to GMA’s Defense of Brands Account was legal.” A majority of the Washington Supreme Court concluded GMA did not show that the trial court erred in imposing a punitive sanction under the FCPA based on the amount intentionally concealed. The Court thus affirmed the courts below and remanded for any further proceedings necessary. View "Washington v. Grocery Mfrs. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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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