Judge Robart warns the City Council to watch its step in defunding SPD (updated)

For the first two and a half pages, today’s order issued by Judge Robart looks routine, granting a six-week extension to his recent temporary restraining order. But then, in the last paragraph, he had something else to say…

(update at the end)


It feels a bit like one of those visits to the doctor when you go through your litany of complaints, and then right at the end you say “Oh by the way, can you look at this other thing?” and finally get to the awkward issue that you were pretending wasn’t the real reason for your visit. Robart dragged out the first part of his order, giving a lengthy explanation for the legal basis for granting the extension, which was largely unnecessary because it was already agreed upon (in fact, suggested) by the two parties in the case. And then came the “oh by the way, as long as I’m here, let me tell you what’s really on my mind.” Here is his last paragraph:

The court advises the City of Seattle to remain mindful that the Consent Decree remains in full force and effect. As the Seattle City Council acknowledged when it expressly asked the City Attorney to notify the court about the CCW Ordinance (see Notice (Dkt. # 625), Ex. 1 (attaching a copy of the CCW Ordinance) at 5 (“In accordance with United States of America v. City of Seattle, . . . during the pendency of the [C]onsent [D]ecree [the City] Council requests that notice of this action be submitted by the City Attorney to . . . the [c]ourt . . . .”)), legislation passed by the City Council may impact the City of Seattle’s obligations under the Consent Decree. As such, during the pendency of the TRO, the court encourages the City of Seattle to remain mindful of its Consent Decree obligations and to work in tandem with the court, the Monitor, the Government, and other appropriate stakeholders to achieve Consent Decree compliance.

It is well established that Robart keeps up with local news; we can assume he is well aware of the City Council’s actions this week with regard to defunding SPD. Robart went out of his way here to issue a thinly-veiled warning to the City Council: I stopped you once from passing an ordinance that violates the Consent Decree, and if you repeat the mistake, I won’t hesitate to do it again.

He is reminding them to be thorough in understanding what impacts their proposed changes to SPD’s budget will have on the terms and policies mandated by the Consent Decree, and to the extent that there are impacts, this time they need to review them with the DOJ, the court-appointed monitor, and his court before they are put into effect. Here is my previous article detailing many of the provisions of the Consent Decree that may be impacted by defunding SPD.

At the moment, the City Council’s pending budget legislation makes no provision for a review by the DOJ, the monitor, and the court. Assuming the Council follows its stated plan and approves it Monday afternoon, it will take effect 30 days after the Mayor signs it or returns it unsigned or the Council overrides a Mayoral veto.

At a hearing last month Judge Robart made it clear that the city was already on thin ice with its multiple-personality disorder related to the Council’s ordinance banning SPD’s use of crowd-control weapons. The fact that Robart is now proactively warning the city not to go down the same path with the effort to defund SPD is a clear sign that he is not in the mood to indulge the Council’s more impulsive legislative tendencies.


UPDATE 8/7 8pm: the Council has a new budget amendment for consideration Monday morning, which contains the following text:

Section 29. The Council (1) affirmatively acknowledges that the Consent Decree remains in full force and effect; (2) has every intention to comply with the Consent Decree obligations as Council rebalances the City’s 2020 Budget; (3) will endeavor to rebalance the 2020 Budget consistent with the Consent Decree requirements; and (4) will continue to work with the Court and other appropriate stakeholders to achieve Consent Decree compliance.


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