Archive for Courts

Family members say Joel’s Law could have saved murdered Spokane woman

By | January 19, 2015 | 0 Comments

If the Washington State Legislature passes “Joel’s Law” this year  – a bill that offers a way for families to appeal to the courts if their family members have been denied involuntary mental health commitment  – it comes too late for the friends and family of Sheena Henderson of Spokane.

Sheena Henderson’s father, Gary Kennison, said the law might have been able to prevent his son-in-law, Chris Henderson, from coming to  his wife’s place of work, where he fatally shot her and killed himself last July.

“We now have two children who are growing up without parents. Christopher, who committed this act, wasn’t a bad person,” Kennison said in a Monday morning hearing in the Senate Human Services, Mental Health & Housing committee.

Chris Henderson’s mental condition had been deteriorating in the months before the shooting, and he had been briefly hospitalized and his guns confiscated. But he was released from the hospital days before the shooting after assuring authorities he was no danger, and he collected his gun from the Spokane Police Department the day before the fatal shooting.

“There was no avenue whatsoever for us to go back and appeal that decision…. So I believe that Joel’s Law, had it been in place, it would have given me a tool to protect my daughter and she would have been here today,” Kennison said.

“Joel’s Law,” which is filed this year under Senate Bill 5269 and House Bill 1258, is named after Joel Reuter, who died in a shootout with Seattle police in 2013.

His parents, Doug and Nancy Reuter, came to Olympia from Texas to lobby the Washington State Legislature last year to pass the law. The bill passed the House unanimously, but was never brought to a floor vote in the Senate.

Joel Reuter had been treating bipolar disorder successfully for several years, but made a turn for the worse after starting chemotherapy for lymphoma. He died after shooting at police officers.

Joel’s family returned this session. Doug Reuter testified on Monday that he believes the designated mental health professionals are given too much leeway in making commitment decisions.

“They answer to nobody. The unilaterally decide who gets help and who does not get help,” Reuter said.

Nancy Reuter (left) and Doug Reuter speak to reporters after a hearing on "Joel's Law," named after their son.

All families want is the ability to make an appeal, he said.

“This will not only provide an avenue for family members to have someone else — a judge — look at all the evidence to determine whether they are a danger to themselves or others. And it gives the (designated mental health professional) a chance to review their files all at the same time,” Reuter said.

Reuter also criticized the fiscal notes from last year, saying the costs are overestimated they assumed ongoing mental health treatment, when the bill only addresses commitment.

One change in this year’s bill is a provision to give the mental health professional 24 hours to respond to the family’s appeal before the appeal is heard by a judge.

However, Shankar Narayan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington, expressed concern over the rights of those who would be detained against their will.

“This is a human being, a person who’s interests might be different from their family members,” said Narayan after the morning hearing.

Mike De Felice, a public defender who works with mental health cases in King County Civil Commitment Court, said the changes could tie up designated mental health professionals in court, when they should be in the community making assessments.

De Felice and Narayan both made the argument that the best place for the investment is in community mental health.

“Olympia needs to fund outpatient treatment in the community, and we can avoid them coming into involuntary treatment,” De Felice said.

Legislators in both chambers and both parties pledged to get the bill passed.

“I have been working very closely with the Reuter family, and other parents with a similar story, who were unable to get help for their son after numerous attempts,” said Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, in a prepared statement. O’Ban is also the chairman of the Senate Human Services, Mental Health & Housing committee.

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, said that since the issue was brought to the forefront last session, legislators have been hearing from families in similar situations.

“Across the state, legislators are now realizing that it’s becoming an epidemic,” Ortiz-Self said at a Monday afternoon press conference.

Doug Reuter said after the morning hearing that after the bill died in the Senate last year, he and his wife did not expect to return to Olympia for this session, but that Speaker Frank Chopp convinced them to return for another attempt to pass it.

“I thought everyone would forget Joel,” he said.

Categories: Courts

Bill would reduce drug possession charge from felony to misdemeanor

By | January 16, 2015 | 0 Comments

Drug possession would no longer be a felony in Washington state, under a bill being considered in the state House.

Possessing one ounce or less of a controlled substance would become simple misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for drug possession now, as a Class C felony, is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. House Bill 1024 would reduce penalties to a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, Poulsbo Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, told a House committee Friday that reducing the charge would save the state millions and allow offenders to move on without the barrier of a felony. “We’re still going to hold people accountable,” she said.

A felony makes it difficult for offenders to find jobs, housing and more, Mary Clare Kersten of Sensible Washington told the committee. “Addiction is a illness and it should rightfully be combated with treatment instead of punishment,” she said. “A felony is a label we can’t shed,” she said.

Some worry the bill would encourage addiction. James McMahan Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said the measure sends the wrong message. “It’s probably time we send the message ‘it’s OK to be sober,’ ” he said.

Appleton says reducing the charge would save the state in prison costs that could be used to fund education and other priorities. Candice Bock says some of that cost would land on cities — about $4.5 million next year.

Voters in California approved a similar measure last year. Lawmakers here tried to pass a similar bill last session, but it did not make it out of the same House committee.

Categories: Courts, Criminal Justice

DSHS seeks legislation for mental health competency services

By | January 7, 2015 | 0 Comments

The state Department of Social and Health Services will seek legislation this session that would allow it to provide some competency rehabilitation services outside of state psychiatric hospitals. The move comes after a federal judge ruled in December that wait times for criminal defendants in jail to be evaluated for competency to stand trial were too long and unconstitutional.

Jane Beyer, Assistant Secretary of Behavior Health and Service Integration at DSHS, told a joint legislative committee on Wednesday that the department acknowledged that some of the wait times were “inappropriate.”

“We do not agree with people waiting in jail as long as they are waiting in jail, and that’s why the governor in his budget had the funding request for additional evaluators and additional forensic beds at state hospitals,” she said.

Inslee’s proposed budget includes $8.8 million to open a new 30-bed forensic ward at Western State Hospital, five beds at Eastern State Hospital and additional staff to address court-ordered competency restoration services.

Currently, restoration services for people found by the court to be incompetent to stand trial are only offered at state psychiatric hospitals. Beyer said DSHS will ask for legislation that would authorize it to offer some of those services in other facilities, possibly modeled after crisis diversion centers in Fife and the Tri-Cities.

“There are individuals who have been charged with a misdemeanor or other low-level, non-violent felony that are willing to take medication,” she said. “I think we can appropriately balance public safety and clinical needs so we can provide competency restoration in places other than state hospitals.”

Otherwise, Beyer said the state will be “confronted with another ward and another ward at the state hospitals” at a cost of tens of millions of dollars in the future.

A trial has been scheduled for March 16 in the lawsuit against DSHS, which was brought by disability rights groups and ACLU of Washington.

McCleary school funding hearing set for Sept. 3, TVW will carry live

By | August 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Washington Supreme Court is ordering lawyers for the state to appear before justices to explain why the Legislature should not be held in contempt for failing to provide a complete plan for funding education.

TVW will air the hearing live on television at 2 p.m. on Sept. 3. It will also be live webcast at this link.

The state Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary case that the state is not fulfilling its obligation to fully fund education. The court has demanded regular updates from the Legislature since the 2012 ruling, and earlier this year the court gave lawmakers an April 30 deadline to explain how the state will pay for schools through the 2018 school year.

Legislators submitted a report by the deadline, but it didn’t include a plan. The report instead asked the Supreme Court to give “deep consideration” to the action taken by lawmakers this year, and recognize that “2015 is the next and most critical year for the Legislature to reach the grand agreement” to pay for education.

The plaintiffs in the McCleary case filed a brief this month asking the Supreme Court to take action if lawmakers don’t have a funding plan by the end of the year.

The court issued a show-cause order for the state’s lawyers to appear before the court to “address why the state should not be held in contempt for violation of this court’s order” that directed the Legislature to submit a complete plan for funding education.

Categories: Courts, Education, McCleary

Supreme Court race: Mary Yu declares candidacy, Bruce Hilyer decides not to run

By | May 15, 2014 | 0 Comments

Former King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Hilyer will not seek election for the state Supreme Court seat formerly held by Justice James Johnson, who retired at the end of April.

Gov. Jay Inslee recently appointed King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu to fill out the remainder of Johnson’s term until the November election. Yu filed this week to officially enter the race.

Hilyer said in an interview that he did some “soul-searching” and discovered that he has found satisfaction in helping parties resolve disputes out of court. He is currently working for Seattle-based firm Judicial Dispute Resolution.

“I’ve decided that’s my first priority and to not seek election to the court,” Hilyer said.

Hilyer filed campaign committee paperwork in April with the state Public Disclosure Commission. He submitted an email to the PDC on May 6 withdrawing the filing.

TVW this week interviewed Yu about her appointment to the state Supreme Court — watch that segment on “The Impact” here.

Categories: Courts, Election

Gov. Jay Inslee appoints Judge Mary Yu to Washington Supreme Court

By | May 1, 2014 | 0 Comments

King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu was appointed Thursday to the Washington Supreme Court, becoming the sixth woman on the court, as well as the first Asian-American, Latina and openly gay member.

Yu will fill the seat of Justice Jim Johnson, who retired Wednesday from the court for health reasons.

“She has a very, very unique combination of life experiences and legal experiences to bring to this court,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, who announced the appointment at the Temple of Justice with all nine members of the high court present, including Johnson.

Judge Mary Yu and Gov. Inslee

Yu served 14 years on the King County Superior Court, and was a prosecutor under the late Norm Maleng.

She is the daughter of two immigrants, her mother from Mexico and her father from China.

Speaking at Thursday’s announcement, Yu paid tribute to Johnson, saying he “served with honor, he remained true to his beliefs and to what he believed is right.”

Johnson was known as one of the most conservative members of the court,

Yu said she was “proud to come from the ranks” of the state’s trial court judges, describing them as the “work horses” of the court system.

“While I am from King County, I want each of you to know I am truly and earnestly committed to serving all the people of the state of Washington,” Yu said.

She must run for election in November to keep the seat and fill out the two years remaining on Johnson’s term.

TVW taped the announcement — watch it here.

Senate debates charging defendants for public defense

By | February 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

Criminal defendants with assets would have to pay a portion of their public defender costs, under a bill passed by the Senate.

Currently, those costs are covered by cities and counties who pay for attorneys for those who can’t afford it, and bill supporters say that is becoming a burden on cities and counties. SB 5020 would allow a defendant’s assets to be taken into consideration when determining whether he or she qualifies for a public defender.

Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle)

Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch)

Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle) argued that asking defendants to include their assets as part of the determination would violate the sixth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to being represented by an attorney in a criminal court matter.

“When we include in the categorization of people people who can afford to pay for their lawyer folks that are earning at the bottom — 125 percent of the federal poverty level — then we have a problem. We are burdening the exercise of a very important constitutional right,” he said.

However, Bill sponsor Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) argued the bill would enable the courts to increase the number of people who get public defenders.

“By requiring individuals to partially or fully pay for their defense when they can afford it we are providing more money for people to have a defense that do not afford it,” he said. 

The bill passed 27-20, and will go to the House for consideration.

Categories: Courts, Criminal Justice

A history of the Fish Wars: 40th anniversary of the Boldt decision

By | February 12, 2014 | 0 Comments

From arrests to apologies, the passionate battle between Native American tribes and Washington state over fishing rights has been intense and lengthy.

Photo credit: The News Tribune

Wednesday marks the 40th anniversary of a federal court ruling that affirmed treaty fishing rights for tribes. For the 80 Indians still alive who fought for their rights to fish in Washington’s waterways, they might finally get closure.

House Bill 2080 would erase criminal records  and clear the names of Indians who were arrested during what is known as the civil rights movement of the Pacific Northwest: The Fish Wars.

A glimpse of history

In 1854, Washington tribes gave the U.S. two million acres of land in exchange for money, three reservations and access to traditional fishing rights under the Treaty of Medicine Creek. Similarly, the 1855 Treaty of Point No Point ensured Indians had a right to fish.

However, as salmon populations declined, the state implemented new regulations on net fishing in Puget Sound rivers. The state wanted tribal fishermen to be held to the same standards as non-tribal fishermen, but Indians ignored regulations.

This confrontation sparked the “fish wars” which intensified during the 1960s and 1970s.

Hank Adams, a Sioux from Montana, played a significant role in getting this issue national attention.  He set up protests, fish-ins and rallies, and he even got Marlon Brando to participate in a demonstration in Olympia.

The Native Americans were instigating confrontation — and the police responded violently.

Sept. 9, 1970 marked the most extreme raid when Tacoma officers and other agents arrested 72 tribe members — including ten juveniles — using tear gas and firing shots.

Finally, federal government got involved and filed the lawsuit U.S. vs. Washington. In 1974, U.S. District Judge George Boldt ruled that the tribes were entitled to up to 50 percent of the harvestable salmon and the ruling known as the Boldt decision was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court five years later.

The long-awaited decision had a powerful impact on the tribes.

Photo credit: The News Tribune

The former Washington Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander, who was a young attorney at the time said, ”This sent shockwaves, not only through the commercial fishing community but to the public at large. That decision really ignited a lot of pride and energy in the Indian community.”

Moving forward

The Native Americans may have won in their fight for justice, but the ruling could not erase the past. Decades later, the criminal records from the arrests still impact about 80 tribal members and often stop them from getting loans, adopting children or leaving the country.

Now, lawmakers in House Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs Committee are trying to give the convicted Indians a change to expunge their records. Under the measure that is expected be considered on the House floor within the next few days, tribal members could apply to the sentencing court to revoke their convictions if they were exercising their treaty fishing rights and not convicted for a violent crime. (more…)

Bill proposes harsher penalties for felony DUI

By | February 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

Lawmakers Tuesday considered doubling the possible penalties for felony driving under the influence. Prosecutors say some are at risk for reoffense without community supervision. Driving under the influence becomes a Class C felony on the fifth offense in Washington.

Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick)

HB 2506 sponsored by Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick) would make it a more serious Class B felony instead.

“These people are getting out after serving their time, and there is no supervision whatsoever. And when they are not under supervision, they are simply getting intoxicated, and getting behind the wheel again and committing the same old crime over and over again,” he said. 

A Class B felony has a penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $20,000. The bill doesn’t change the seriousness of the crime, but gives law enforcement the ability to add community supervision on top of a prison sentence, says Amy Friedheim, a prosecutor in King County.

“It’s allowing us now to give them the 12 months of community supervision,” she said. “They are using up their entire statutory maximum in the DOC (Department of Corrections). And they are not getting any kind of community custody afterward.”

The bill also applies to people who drive with marijuana in their system with a THC concentration of 5.0, which is the legal limit set by Initiative 502. Medical marijuana advocate John Novak says many patients exceed that level with their medications.

“I get to the point where I can drive. I rely on cannabis to be honest with you. And this has been proved by my doctors. They have never taken my driving license away because of the cannabis stopping the seizures to the degree that it has.”

Medical marijuana advocates say a DUI should be based on impairment, not on specific THC levels.

Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Pouslbo)

Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) wondered if legislators could impose the community supervision without putting DUI on the same level as other serious crimes.

“Alcoholism is a disease. And what if we raise this to a Class B felony? There is manslaughter, and assault and other things that gravely injure people, and it’s sort of the on the level with murder. And I am not inclined to go there,” she said. 

However, Friedheim said that Appleton’s suggestion is not possible under current Class C sentencing.

“There’s no legal way to give them any kind of supervision after they’ve reached their statutory max,” she said.

The House Public Safety Committee also heard several other bills relating to driving under the influence:

  • HB 2344 - Concerning ignition interlock device requirements in vehicle sales.
  • HB 2503 - Concerning the operation of a vessel under the influence of an intoxicant.
  • HB 2728 - Concerning impaired driving.
The committee also heard HB 2549, about sentence enhancement for attempting to elude a police; HB 2507  about increasing the punishment for vehicular homicide and HB 2705, which is about reserve peace officers.
TVW aired the proceedings. Watch the hearing in our archives.

Families seek help for mental health commitments

By | February 3, 2014 | 0 Comments

Doug and Nancy Reuter testified Monday that their son, Joel Reuter, might not have died in a shootout with Seattle police if his family could have convinced authorities to commit him for his deteriorating mental health.

Doug Reuter described to the House Judiciary Committee how their family tried in vain for authorities to decide that Joel’s increasingly erratic beliefs and behavior rose to the level of involuntary commitment.

“I was told that if he had a loaded gun in his hand with his finger on the trigger, then we

Joel Reuter

could get him help. That’s exactly what Joel had in his hand on July 5,” Doug Reuter said before breaking down in tears. “And the help they gave him was to kill him”

The Reuter family and other family members of people with mental illnesses told legislators Monday they need more help getting their loved ones into involuntary treatment. House Bill 2725, and its companion Senate Bill 6513, would offer a way for families to appeal to the courts if their family members have been denied involuntary treatment.

Joel Reuter had been undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder, but he stopped taking his medications. His friends also tried to intervene.

“We contacted the Adult Protective Services. We were told there was nothing we could do. We called the crisis hotline. Same thing. Police. Same thing. We contacted therapists. Same thing,” Reuter’s friend Kathleen Johnson said.

After Reuter died, a counselor at Harborview Medical Center told Katie Wixom, another of his friends, there was nothing anyone could have done to force him into treatment.

“She said all of us here knew Joel and we wanted to help Joel but there’s not a system to allow us to help him,” Wixom said.

Under the current involuntary treatment law, a designated mental health professional must sign off to commit someone involuntarily. The patient must be at grave risk to oneself or others, either through threatening to harm someone or oneself, or through becoming unable to take care of one’s basic needs.

House bill 2725 would allow immediate family members to petition the courts if the patient is denied involuntary commitment by the mental health professional. The courts can review denials and could  reverse the decision, taking the family’s testimony into account.

However, Mike De Felice, a public defender who works with mental health cases in King County Civil Commitment Court, testified in opposition. He says the bill would put a strain on an overburdened court system.

“This system is already so overwhelmed that our particular court had to turn a waiting room into another courtroom to deal with these cases each day. And now we’re talking about creating a third courtroom,” he said.

Also speaking in opposition, David Lord with Disability Rights Washington says the proposal would be ineffective without addressing overcrowding in hospitals.

“If you just change the law, and if you don’t have places for people to go, then I don’t see what you have done,” he said.

But families of the mentally ill say the bill would catch people who are falling through the cracks.

“We’re desperate. My son has lost just about everything. He insists he is not mentally ill, that everyone else is responsible for his difficulties,” Steve Danishek told the House Committee. “It’s one more tool for us to appeal to the courts for help. We desperately need your support on this bill.”

The companion bill was heard Monday in the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.

Categories: Courts

On ‘Legislative Review:’ Daycare fatality reviews, pitbull bans and a prison bill

By | January 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

On Thursday’s edition of “Legislative Review,” we have details about a bill that would require stricter reviews if a child dies while at a state-licensed daycare. The bill was spurred by the recent death of a baby who died from sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, while in the care of a licensed daycare provider who had previous violations.

We also have details about a proposal to end pitbull bans, and other types of breed-specific discrimination. Plus, an effort to prevent prisoners from harassing their victims with lawsuits. Watch the show below:

Categories: Courts, TVW
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State Supreme Court orders Legislature to ‘quicken’ progress on K-12 funding

By | January 9, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Washington Supreme Court issued a report Thursday ordering the Legislature to come up with a plan by April explaining how the state will fund schools through 2018.

Last year’s budget, which put an extra $1 billion into K-12 education, is “undeniably an improvement” over the previous biennial budget, the court wrote. But the state must demonstrate it is taking “immediate, concrete action” to meet the goal of fully funding basic education by 2018.

“We recognize that the April 30, 2014 deadline shortens the time for the state’s report, but it is clear that the pace of progress must quicken,” Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the report signed by eight of the nine judges. Justice James M. Johnson is expected to file a dissent.

“Looking at the gross numbers, the overall increased investment in basic education is only a modest 6.7 percent above current funding levels that violate the constitution, and there are not even two full budget cycles left to make up the sizable gap before the school year ending in 2018,” the court said.

The state also “falls short” when it comes to salaries of teachers and administrative staff, which remain “constitutionally inadequate,” Madsen wrote. The budget restored some salary cuts, but continued to suspend cost-of-living pay raises approved by the voters with Initiative 732.

The state is facing steep costs in the future to meet McCleary requirements — $3.35 billion in the 2015-17 budget cycle, and $4.48 billion in 2017-19.

Update: Justice James M. Johnson has filed a dissent here.

Judge rules on charter school initiative, allowing schools to move forward with plans

By | December 12, 2013 | 0 Comments

A King County judge ruled Thursday that charter schools in Washington cannot receive school construction funds from the state, but otherwise upheld a charter school law approved by voters last year.

The Washington Education Association, League of Women Voters and other groups filed a lawsuit in July asking the court to declare the charter school law unconstitutional and halt its implementation.

The court considered several challenges to the law, including whether charter schools can be considered “common schools.” A common school is available to all children, free and under the control of voters in the school district.

King County Judge Jean Rietschel said in her ruling that a “charter school cannot be defined as a common school because it is not under the control of the voters of the school district.” Since it is not a common school, she said it does not qualify for certain state money, such construction funds.

Opponents also argued that it was the Legislature’s paramount duty to define basic education, and that duty cannot be delegated to the private organizations that will run the charter schools. Rietschel did not agree with that challenge, saying that there are “sufficient” standards and safeguards in place.

The attorney general’s office, which represented the state in court, said Thursday that charter school operators can move forward with their plans.

“The court has held the vast majority of the charter schools initiative constitutional, and the state will continue to implement this law,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson in a statement.

Voters approved an initiative last year that allows 40 charter schools to open in Washington within the next five years. The state’s first charter schools are expected to open their doors in the fall of 2014.

The Washington Education Association said the case will likely be appealed to the Washington Supreme Court.

Read the judge’s ruling here.

Categories: Courts, Education

State Supreme Court considers religion in workplace case

By | October 22, 2013 | 0 Comments

Should employers in Washington be required to accommodate the religious practices of their employees?

That’s the question before the Washington Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on Tuesday in a case brought by four employees of Gate Gourmet, a company that prepares meals for airline passengers.

Because of security restrictions, the employees are not allowed to bring their own lunch or leave the site for food. Gate Gourmet provided a meal for its workers that included one meat option and one vegetarian choice.

The employees — including a Hindu, Muslim and Orthodox Christian — allege the company sometimes put meat products in the vegetarian dish or served pork in the meat dish, even after an employee told Gate Gourmet that eating pork was against his religious beliefs.

Aaron Rocke, the attorney for the workers, argued that employers in Washington have a “duty to accommodate the creeds of their employees” under the state’s discrimination law.

He said Gate Gourmet prepares meals to fit the dietary preferences of airline passengers — including halal, vegetarian and gluten-free options. But the company doesn’t afford that same respect to its workers, Rocke said.

“They make their employees eat food that the employees believe makes them unclean, impure or they find morally objectionable. The facts in this case allege that they have tricked them into eating such food,” Rocke said.

Gate Gourmet’s lawyer Shane Sagheb argued that the state’s current discrimination law does not require employers to make religious accommodations. To change the law, that would require action by the state Legislature or by the state Human Rights Commission, he said.

The Washington State Law Against Discrimination makes it illegal to hire or fire someone because of their creed, age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race or disability.

Sagheb said Gate Gourmet did not intend to harm the workers.  “I do not think it amounts to battery under Washington law,” he said.

Watch the oral arguments below. The court will issue a decision at a later date.

Categories: Courts, Criminal Justice

Lawmakers consider changes to state’s wrongful death law

By | October 8, 2013 | 0 Comments

State legislators on Tuesday discussed making changes to the state’s wrongful death law, which some say isn’t fair to those who are unmarried or childless.

University of Gonzaga law professor David DeWolf said there are “gaps” in Washington’s law. If someone dies because of another person’s negligence, the current law allows the person’s spouse, domestic partner or children to collect wrongful death damages.

If the person who died was single, then a parent or sibling can file a wrongful death lawsuit — but only if they can prove they were financially dependent on the individual who died.

“It is rare in this day and age to have a parent or sibling who is financially dependent,” DeWolf said. “Emotional dependency is more common.”

He cited the case of Maria Schumacher, a woman with Down’s Syndrome who died from hot water burns after taking a bath at an adult boarding home in Bellingham. Her brother, Charles Schumacher, attempted to collect wrongful death damages, but was denied because he was not financially dependent on his sister.

Trial lawyer Jack Connelly also testified in favor of changing the law at a Senate Law and Justice Committee work session in Steilacoom.

Parents of a minor child can file a wrongful death lawsuit, but they lose that right after that child’s 18th birthday — a situation that happened to the parents of an 18-year-old Pacific Lutheran University student who died, Connelly said.

“That pain is intense. It’s a searing loss,” Connelly said. “If that death is caused by negligence of someone else, there should be accountability.”

Opponents say that while they are sympathetic to the grieving families, changing the law would result in higher insurance premiums.

A representative for the Association of Washington Cities, which provides insurance for 91 cities, said that an increase in the number of beneficiaries will drive up the cost of insurance for cities and counties.

“Our position today is the current law is sufficient to provide recovery for the victims of wrongful death,” said Denny Maher, director of legal affairs for the Washington State Medical Association.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, questioned whether the current law is allowing people to escape accountability if the person they kill is over 18, but not yet married with a family.

“If a person is killed at the negligence of someone else, why is there any protection of accountability because of the age of the person who died?” Kline said.

Committee approves education funding report for the state Supreme Court

By | August 27, 2013 | 0 Comments

A legislative committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a report that will be sent to the state Supreme Court explaining how the state intends to fund education in order to meet the requirements of the McCleary case. In that ruling, the court said the state was not meeting its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education.

Committee co-chair Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said the report was a “consolidation” of a Republican version and a Democratic version.

“I don’t think it has everything in here that everybody wanted, but it has the core issues that were important to both sides and it lays out in a factual way what we did and what needs to be done,” Frockt said.

The Legislature approved a budget this year that puts $982 million more into basic K-12 education over the next two years. The report highlights four actions that the Legislature approved in the budget, including:

  • Full-day kindergarten: $89.8 million, increasing enrollment in full-day kindergarten from 22 percent to 44 percent.
  • Student transportation: $131.7 million, which fully funds the cost of busing students by the 2014-15 school year.
  • Materials, supplies and operating costs: $374 million, or $782 dollars per student by the 2014-15 school year.
  • Class size reduction: $103.6 million, reducing kindergarten and 1st grade class sizes in “high poverty schools” to 20 students.

The report also lays out future costs. The state is required to provide statewide full-day kindergarten by 2018, which the report estimates will cost $316 million in the 2017-18 budget cycle.

Another $1 billion is required to reduce class sizes for grades K-3 in all schools by the 2017-18 school year. Materials, supplies and operating costs are estimated to cost $857 million by the 2015-16 school year.

This is the second progress report the Legislature has provided to the state Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction until 2018. It was prepared by a the Article IX Litigation committee, which includes Sen. David Frockt, Rep. Gary Alexander, Sen. Joe Fain, Sen. Steve Litzow, Sen. Christine Rolfes, Rep. Susan Fagan, Rep. Jamie Pedersen and Rep. Pat Sullivan.

The full report is available online here.

Categories: Courts, Education

Governor signs dozens of bills into law

By | May 8, 2013 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee has signed dozens of bills into law during the two-week break between regular session and special session, which begins May 13. Most of the laws go into effect at the end of July. The full list is here, but below is a round-up of a few bills we’ve covered on this blog or on “Legislative Review“:

Alcohol poisoning: The law aims to reduce alcohol poisoning deaths by exempting underage drinkers from a minor-in-possession charge if they call 9-1-1 to report that a friend has alcohol poisoning.

Electronic insurance: Drivers who are pulled over by the police will be allowed to show their insurance and vehicle registration information on a cellphone, iPad or other electronic device.

Liquor self-checkout machines: Grocery stores will be required to program all self-checkout machines so that the register freezes up whenever someone attempts to purchases liquor. A clerk must check ID to verify the purchaser is 21 or older before the machine can finish the transaction.

Wrongful conviction compensation: Prisoners who were wrongly convicted would be eligible to receive $50,000 for each year spent in prison, with an additional $50,000 for each year on death row. Awards would also be provided for each year spent on parole or as a registered sex offender. Backers of the law estimate it’ll only affect four current cases — including Alan Northrop, who testified at hearings on the issue. Northrop spent 17 years in prison for rape before he was exonerated by DNA evidence.

Craft distilleries: Up until now, craft distilleries in Washington have only been allowed to sell two liters of liquor per customer each day. The owner of Carbon Glacier Distillery near Mt. Rainier testified during hearings that the two-bottle limit was hurting tourism. The new law increase the limit to three liters per person.

Statute of limitations for sex abuse: Those who were sexually abused as minors will now have until their 30th birthday to report the crime. Previously, the abuse had to be prosecuted by their 28th birthday. It also expands the definition of the crime to include sexual exploitation of a minor, which can include photos or videos.

Motorcycle passing: Motorcycles are allowed to pass a pedestrian or bicyclist that traveling is in the same lane, as long as the motorcyclist passes on the left at a safe distance.

Persistently failing schools: The law directs the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to identify the worst-performing schools and come up with an intervention plan. The schools will get additional funding to help with the turnaround plan.

Text message privacy case makes its way to state Supreme Court

By | May 7, 2013 | 0 Comments

Is an iPhone text message the modern version of a letter? That question was debated in oral arguments Tuesday in front of the Washington Supreme Court, which is considering two cases that deal with the expectation of privacy when sending a text message.

After arresting a suspected drug dealer last year, a police detective saw an incoming text message on the dealer’s iPhone screen that said: “Hey whats up dogg can you call me i need to talk to you.”

The detective typed out a response to the text message, pretending to be the dealer. They arranged to meet at a parking lot, where the person who was sending the text messages, Shawn Hinton, was arrested for attempting to possess heroin. Police also found an old text message from Jonathan Roden on the iPhone and started a new text conversation that led to his arrest.

Hinton and Roden claim that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the police searched the text messages without a warrant. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

On Tuesday, the state’s high court heard arguments in both the cases.

Attorney John Hays argued on behalf of Hinton, saying that the text message is the equivalent of a letter, which is protected by the Fourth Amendment. “Until the recipient reads it, you as the writer have a right to privacy,” Hays said.

Justice Debra L. Stephens noted that the iPhone was not protected by a password and the incoming text message simply popped up on the screen. “Why is that inside the envelope, not outside the envelope?” Stephens asked.

Hays replied that he’s not arguing that the message flashing across the screen was illegally obtained. “That was open view,” he said. “But when they open the phone and start using it, they are opening the letter and looking inside.”

Hays said he believes that police should have a warrant to “manipulate” a phone.

Attorney Sean Brittain laid out the state’s case. He argued that there is an “inherent risk in a text message” that someone else might read it, giving the hypothetical example of a husband who hands his cellphone to his wife to respond to a text because he’s driving.

Brittain argued that “privacy ends at the moment the letter is delivered.” Whether it’s an email or text or letter, he says the sender has no control over what happens to it next. For example, the sender can’t force the recipient to delete an email chain, he said.

“Once it has been delivered, that’s where privacy interest is lost,” Brittain said.

The state Supreme Court will issue a decision at a later time. TVW airs all Supreme Court cases. Watch the Hinton arguments here, and the Roden arguments here.

Categories: Courts, Criminal Justice

Senate panel considers resolution rebelling against Citizens United ruling

By | March 26, 2013 | 0 Comments

A Senate panel on Tuesday heard testimony on a resolution calling on Congress to introduce a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.

The decision allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on independent political campaigns. A later court decision based on the high court’s ruling freed up individuals to give unlimited amounts to independent groups, which led to the creation of the super PAC.

“I think the way that money has come to be deployed in our politics is a threat to our democracy and it’s a threat to both the reality and perception of individual citizens being able to have an influence on the political process,” said Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle), the prime sponsor of the resolution.

The measure was passed by the House by a partisan vote of 55-42 earlier this month. Seven other states have passed similar measures calling for an amendment to reverse the ruling.

The Senate version of the bill never made it out of the Senate Governmental Operations Committee, the same panel of lawmakers that heard testimony on the bill Tuesday. The symbolic legislation offered by the House also has little chance in the Republican-controlled committee chaired by Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn).

Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle), a lawyer who backed the Senate version of the measure, argued the Citizens United ruling unfairly gives people with more money a louder voice in the political process.

“Usually I am one of those people that is willing to listen to certain guidance from our courts, particularly the Supreme Court,” he said. “But I think they failed. I think they made a significant error here and it’s not an error in some innocuous law that governs 18 people. This unfortunately goes to the foundation of democracy.”

No one testified against the resolution during Tuesday’s hearing and the committee did not take action on the measure.

Categories: Courts

Two-thirds ruling, Hanford leaks and housing vouchers on ‘Legislative Review’

By | March 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

Here’s our recap of Thursday’s legislative activities on “Legislative Review” — including the Washington Supreme Court ruling that the two-thirds supermajority requirement to raise taxes is unconstitutional. We also have highlights from a Senate work session about the Hanford nuclear leaks, and debate over a bill that would make some changes to a program that provides housing vouchers to recently released sex offenders.

Categories: Courts, Criminal Justice, tax