Catching up on court cases: January 8, 2021

It’s time for a quick catch-up on three court cases:  the Sawant recall petition, the ACLU/Black Lives Matter crowd control weapons case, and the landlords’ challenge to the city and state eviction moratoria.

Sawant recall petition

All the written briefs were filed with the state Supreme Court by the middle of December, and the Court indicated that it would be meeting in conference on January 7th and would likely issue a brief preliminary ruling that day, as it did with the recall petition against Mayor Durkan. However, the 7th came and went without a ruling being released. This morning, the Clerk of the Court let it be known that a ruling would also not be forthcoming today. In addition, it appears that the justices have chosen to forego issuing a preliminary ruling and will proceed directly to writing and releasing its full opinion. The Court usually batches up its opinions for release on Thursday mornings, and this ruling too is now likely to be on that schedule.

This is bad news for the petitioners, who were hoping to have enough time to get the recall on the April ballot. But to do so, they would need to collect about 10,000 signatures by February 26th, the deadline for submitting voter initiatives, referenda and recall petitions to King County Elections. Even if the court had ruled in their favor yesterday, it was still a long shot to gather that many signatures in a month and a half. But now that they must continue in a holding pattern, it looks near impossible. Assuming the Court eventually certifies one or more of the four charges, and the campaign is successful in gathering the required signatures, the recall would likely end up on the August ballot, alongside the primary elections for Mayor, City Attorney, and the two city-wide City Council positions.

In the meantime, both side have been fundraising like crazy, preparing to battle it out in both the signature-gathering phase and the ensuing campaign. According to the SEEC site, as of mid-December the recall campaign had raised $223,000, and the “Kshama Solidarity” campaign had raised $148,000.  Both sides are trading attacks: the recall campaign points out that the solidarity campaign has received nearly half its money from donors outside of Seattle, while the solidarity campaign notes that it has more donors from District 3 than the recall campaign. The recall campaign disputes this, noting that they have received hundreds of donations of $25 or less where the donor is not required to publicly identify themselves. They claim that according to their internal records, which cannot be verified, they have about 1,500 District 3 donors in total, more than twice the number that the solidarity campaign claims to have.

Stay tuned; unless the Court throws out all four charges in the petition, this is going to heat up substantially as soon as the ruling is released.



ACLU/Black Lives Matter – Contempt Charge

You may recall that on December 7, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones found the City of Seattle in contempt on four counts of violating his injunction on SPD’s use of crowd-control weapons. He ordered a briefing schedule for both sides to argue their views on what appropriate sanctions should be to address the violations.

The plaintiffs requested three things: that the judge’s orders be disseminated to all officers; that SPD be required to turn over to them video and incident reports for all use of crowd-control weapons during protests within five days of the incident; and that the city pay their (substantial) claimed legal fees.  The city filed its own briefs, pushing back hard on what it viewed as both the impossibility and inappropriateness of the request for SPD to proactively turn over video and reports on all future incidents, as well as the perceived exorbitance of the attorney fees asserted by the plaintiffs.

The city also filed a Motion to Reconsider, asking Judge Jones to reverse his ruling and re-asserting one of its main arguments: that under the Monell standard, the city cannot be held responsible for the actions of individual officers so long as it made a reasonable good-faith effort to comply with the injunction (which it claims it did). During earlier oral arguments, it was made clear that there is essentially no case law precedent that speaks to whether the Monell standard applies to a contempt proceeding, so this question is effectively new territory. In Judge Jones’ ruling, he decided that it did not apply and found the city responsible for officers’ actions. The city’s Motion for Reconsideration is a clear sign that it intends to appeal Jones’ ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals once Judge Jones inevitable denies the motion for reconsideration, and let the appeals court take a shot at determining the applicability of the Monell standard to a contempt charge.

In the meantime, it’s unclear how the judge will rule on the question of sanctions. All the briefs are filed, and a decision could come at any time — though Jones may take days or weeks to rule.



El Papel — Eviction Moratoria

Last fall a group of Seattle landlords challenged the eviction moratoria enacted by both Mayor Durkan and Governor Inslee, and filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to block them from being enforced.  The case was assigned to Magistrate Judge Richard Creatura, who issued his report in early December recommending that the motion be denied and further that Governor Inslee be dismissed as a defendant since as Governor he is granted immunity from this sort of lawsuit. Magistrate judges can’t make final rulings; instead, they write recommendation reports to a sitting U.S. District Court judge (in this case, once again it’s Judge Richard Jones) who may accept, reject, or modify the recommendations and makes the final ruling. All parties are allowed to file a brief with the Court raising objections with the Magistrate Judge’s report before the Judge rules.

Both the City and State (on behalf of Durkan and Inslee, respectively) asked for some minor corrections and clarifications. The plaintiffs, of course, raised more substantial objections, along the lines of what might be in a Motion to Reconsider, largely re-iterating the points they had made earlier.

Today Judge Jones handed down his ruling: he denied the motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissed Governor Inslee as a party in the case. He rejected essentially all of the arguments that the plaintiffs made and accepted with only minor corrections Creatura’s report and recommendations.

We shall see whether the plaintiffs appeal up the line to the 9th Circuit.



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