This afternoon, King County Superior court Jim Rogers briefly heard oral arguments and quickly issued a ruling certifying an updated ballot synopsis for the recall petition against Councilmember Sawant. That allows the recall campaign to immediately turn to signature-gathering, though Judge Rogers still must resolve one remaining issue related to how long the campaign has to turn in the required signatures.
Following the Washington State Supreme Court’s ruling on April 1 upholding three of the four charges in the recall petition, the case was sent back down to Rogers to revise his original ballot synopsis by removing the disallowed charge. Both sides took the opportunity to argue for additional changes to the language: the petitioners to fix some grammatical issues, and Sawant to try again to convince Rogers to insert the word “allegedly” twice more (it was already there once). Sawant also attempted to have references to her alleged violation of the City Charter removed, arguing that the state Supreme Court hadn’t explicitly said in its ruling that the charges amount to a violation of the Charter.
Judge Rogers listened patiently to both sides, and in the end agreed with the recall campaign; he denied Sawant’s attorney all of his requests for changes. Here is the final text of the ballot synopsis:
Shall City of Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant be recalled from office for misfeasance, malfeasance, and violation of the oath of office based upon allegations that she violated the city charter, city code, and state law when she:
(1) Used City resources to support a ballot initiative and failed to comply with the public disclosure requirements related to such support;
(2) Disregarded state orders related to COVID-19 by admitting hundreds of people into City Hall on June 9, 2020 when it was closed to the public;
(3) Led a protest march to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s private residence, the location of which Councilmember Sawant knew was protected under state confidentiality laws.
Under state law, Judge Rogers’ decision on the ballot synopsis is final and may not be appealed. But he does have one more issue to resolve, because of an ambiguity in state law. RCW 29A.56.150(2) reads:
The sponsors of a recall demanded of an officer elected to a statewide position shall have a maximum of two hundred seventy days, and the sponsors of a recall demanded of any other officer shall have a maximum of one hundred eighty days, in which to obtain and file supporting signatures after the issuance of a ballot synopsis by the superior court. If the decision of the superior court regarding the sufficiency of the charges is not appealed, the one hundred eighty or two hundred seventy day period for the circulation of signatures begins on the sixteenth day following the decision of the superior court. If the decision of the superior court regarding the sufficiency of the charges is appealed, the one hundred eighty or two hundred seventy day period for the circulation of signatures begins on the day following the issuance of the decision by the supreme court.
If read literally, this suggests that the clock started ticking on the petitioners’ 180 days for signature-gathering back on April 1, even though it took three more weeks for the ballot synopsis to be finalized. The attorneys for the recall campaign argued that the law did not anticipate that a recall petition might be partially upheld and would need to go back to the lower court for further modification, and as such they asked Judge Rogers to rule that the 180-day period begins today (and is actually 196 days, given the extra sixteen in state law after the superior court rules); they further argued that Sawant’s attorney couldn’t possibly object to such an interpretation, since he was asking for additional changes to the ballot synopsis. However, Sawant’s attorney did in fact object, and asked for written briefs on both sides before Judge Rogers decides. Rogers granted that request, since at this point it won’t hold up the recall campaign from moving forward; it will simply determine the end-date for signature gathering. Rogers committed to deciding the matter on April 30.
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