Wrapping up the final legal issue related to the recall of Councilmember Kshama Sawant, last Friday King County Superior court Judge Jim Rogers ruled on the deadline for when the recall campaign must submit the required signatures to get the recall on the election ballot, giving them until October 19 to gather just over 10,000 signatures.
Two weeks ago Judge Rogers finalized the ballot synopsis text for the recall petition against Councilmember Kshama Sawant, but left open one issue: how long the petitioners have to collect and file the required number of signatures. State law specifies that when the Superior Court certifies a recall petition, the petitioners then have 16 days to prepare the petitions for signature-gathering, followed by 180 days to gather the necessary signatures. But if the certification is appealed to the state Supreme Court and is upheld, the petitioners only have 180 days from the date that the Court hands down its decision (implying that the petitioners could use the time when the Court is deliberating in order to prepare their petitions).
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.
But the state law is at best unclear when the clock starts and how long it runs if the Supreme Court only upholds some of the charges in the petition, and the Superior Court is then required to rewrite the ballot proposition. The petitioners asked for the full 196 days from last week’s ruling, but said that they could live with 180; Sawant asked the judge to rule instead that they have only 180 days from April 1, the day the Supreme Court ruled.
Rogers sided with the campaign, ruling that they have a full 180 days from April 22, the day he certified the updated ballot synopsis. That makes the deadline October 19. While signing the proposed order supplied by the recall campaign, he hand-wrote his own explanation for his ruling:
“The intent of the statute is to allow 180 days, thus it would be an absurd result if the timing of the final Superior Court hearing on ballot synopsis determined the number of days given to the Petitioners to gather recall petition signatures.”
The recall campaign now has the option of rushing to try to make the November ballot, or waiting until after the deadline to file the signatures to force a special election. Under the law, the election must be held between 45 and 90 days after the signatures are verified.
Sawant’s legal bills to defend against the recall are being covered by the City of Seattle (Mayor Durkan, after initially footing the bill herself to defend against the recall petition against her, ultimately asked the city to pick up her legal tab as well). According to the City Attorney’s Office, as of April 1, Sawant’s law firm had billed the city for $99,000.
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