Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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In November 2013, Washington voters rejected Initiative 522 (I-522), which would have required labels on packaged foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) opposed state-level GMO labeling laws, including I-522. Over the course of the 2013 election cycle, GMA solicited over $14 million in optional contributions from its member companies, $11 million of which went to support the “No on 522” political committee. The payments to No on 522 were attributed solely to GMA itself, with no indication of which companies had provided the funds. Prior to the initiation of this lawsuit, GMA was not registered as a political committee and did not make any reports to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). The State filed a complaint alleging that GMA intentionally violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA)'s registration and disclosure requirements and the FCPA’s prohibition on concealing the sources of election-related spending. GMA countered that it cannot be subject to the FCPA’s registration and disclosure requirements because those requirements violate the First Amendment as applied. U.S. CONST. amend. I. The trial court agreed with the State, imposed a $6 million base penalty on GMA, and trebled the penalty to $18 million after determining GMA;s violations were intentional. The Court of Appeals largely affirmed, but revered the treble penalty, holding that one had to "subjectively intend to violate the law in order to be subject to treble damages." After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the conclusion that the FCPA, and that the FCPA was constitutional as applied. The Court reversed the appellate court on the treble penalty, holding that the trial court applied the proper legal standard to determine GMA intentionally violated the FCPA. The matter was remanded to the Court of Appeals for consideration of GMA's claim that the penalty imposed violated the excessive fines clauses of the federal and Washington constitutions. View "Washington v. Grocery Mfrs. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Arthur West appealed a judgment finding the charges in his petition to recall Washington Governor Jay Inslee to be legally and factually insufficient to submit to voters. In his recall petition, West alleged the governor was absent from Washington too frequently and failed to properly notify the lieutenant governor of these absences, failed to declare homelessness a statewide emergency, and improperly campaigned for a ballot initiative. The trial court held that the charges were factually and legally insufficient. The Washington Supreme Court found that while West's petition may have stated reasons to disagree with Governor Inslee, but they were not proper reasons to support a recall. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court. View "In re Recall of Inslee" on Justia Law

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Two Tonasket voters petitioned to recall City Council member Jill Ritter from office. The petition made six allegations relating to improper influence over a police investigation of a relative’s son, improperly reviewing police personnel records, certain public statements made about Tonasket police, and conspiracy to disband the police force. The superior court determined all allegations were insufficient to warrant a recall election; finding no reversible error, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed that decision. View "In re Recall of Ritter" on Justia Law

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Two Tonasket voters petitioned to recall City Council member Christia “Teagan” Levine from office. The petition alleged Levin committed five violations relating to certain city personnel actions, conspiracy to remove the City Attorney and cause the Mayor to resign as part of an illegal quorum, withholding public records, and conspiring to disband the city police force. After a hearing, the trial court dismissed all charges, finding them factually and legally insufficient to sustain further action. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Recall of Levine" on Justia Law

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A recall petition was filed against the Mayor and three Cathlamet council members; charges stemmed from Cathlamet’s purchase of a parcel of property at 20 Butler street. The petition alleged a violation of the Washington Constitution as a gift of public funds to the seller of the Butler Street property, Bernadette Goodroe. One additional charge against one town counselor alleged violation of RCW 42.23.070(2), prohibiting municipal officials from giving or receiving gifts related to their official capacities. The Washington Supreme Court determined the charges in the recall petition was legally insufficient, because acquisition of real property is a fundamental government purpose and discretionary act that was not manifestly unreasonable under the circumstances of this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "In re Recall of Burnham" on Justia Law

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Seattle voters approved the "Democracy Voucher Program," intending to increase civic engagement. Recipients could give their vouchers to qualified municipal candidates, who could redeem those vouchers for campaign purposes. The city would find the program through property taxes. Mark Elster and Sarah Pynchon sued, arguing the taxes funding the program was unconstitutional. Because the program did not violate the First Amendment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "Elster v. City Of Seattle" on Justia Law

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Appellants Levi Guerra, Esther John, and Peter Chiafalo appealed a superior court decision upholding the imposition of a $1,000 file for failing to cast their votes in the United States Electoral College in accordance with the popular vote in the State of Washington. They argued the file was a violation of their Constitutional rights, specifically, the Twelfth Amendment and the First Amendment. The Washington Supreme Court determined the fine imposed pursuant to RCW 29A.56.340 fell within the authority of Article II, section 1 of the federal Constitution. Furthermore, the Court held nothing under Article II, section 1 or the Twelfth Amendment granted the electors absolute discretion in casting their votes, and the fine did not interfere with a federal function. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's judgment. View "In re Guerra" on Justia Law

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The Yakima County clerk was ordered by a superior court judge to procure a supplemental bond to maintain her elected office. The court warned that failure to comply would result in the court declaring the office vacant. The clerk sought a writ of prohibition from the Washington Supreme Court to prevent enforcement of the superior court's order. The Supreme Court denied the writ: the superior court judge did not exceed the court's jurisdiction by issuing the supplemental bond order; the clerk could have availed herself of "a plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law - an injunction. Thus, prohibition will not lie." View "Riddle v. Elofson" on Justia Law

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This case involved statutory interpretation concerning application of the reporting requirements contained in the Washington Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA), chapter 42.17A RCW. The specific issue presented was how the FCPA reporting requirements in RCW 42.17A.255 and the definition in RCW 42.17A.005(4) ("ballot proposition") were to be applied in the context of local initiatives. In 2014, Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) staff created sample municipal ordinances and ballot propositions for citizens to use to advance certain causes to their local city councils or commissions. Local residents in the cities of Sequim, Chelan, and Shelton used those samples in filing two ballot propositions in each city, one to require collective bargaining negotiation sessions to be publicly conducted and the second to prohibit union security clauses in city collective bargaining agreements. The proponents submitted the proposed measures to their local city clerks along with signatures they had gathered in support of the measures, and asked their respective city councils or commissions either to pass the measures as local ordinances or, if the councils or commissions did not agree, to alternatively place each measure on the local ballot for a vote. None of the cities passed the measures as ordinances or placed the ballot propositions on the local ballots. In response, EFF employees, who were attorneys, participated in lawsuits against each jurisdiction on behalf of the local resident proponents, each suit seeking a judicial directive to the respective city to put each measure on the local ballot. Each lawsuit ended in a superior court dismissing the case, and those decisions were not appealed. EFF did not file any campaign finance disclosure reports identifying the value of the legal services it provided to the resident proponents in support of the local ballot propositions. The State conducted an investigation and then filed a civil regulatory enforcement action against EFF alleging EFF failed to report independent expenditures it made in support of the noted local ballot propositions. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' reversal of the trial court's 12(b)(6) dismissal of the State's regulatory enforcement action under the FCPA: under the circumstances of this case, EFF's pro bono legal services were reportable. The applicable reporting statutes were not unconstitutionally vague, nor did their application here violate EFF's First Amendment rights. View "Washington v. Evergreen Freedom Found." on Justia Law

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End Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) argued that the ballot title for a King County property tax increase lacked information required by former RCW 84.55.050 (2012). The Washington Supreme Court found that RCW 29A.36.090 required ballot title objections be raised within 10 days of the public filing of that ballot title. EPIC's claim was brought nearly 4 years after the ballot title at issue in this case was filed, was was therefore deemed untimely. The Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirmed the judgment of the superior court. View "End Prison Indus. Complex v. King County" on Justia Law