Just 11 days before Christmas, On December 13, Judge Culpepper granted the Port, the Chamber and the EDB their wish, a dismissal in the court case filed by the Attorney General’s Office.
At the start of the hearing, Arthur West, the person who filed the Citizen Action Letter last July, spoke with the judge about intervening in the case because he wanted to be sure the state argued the fact that the Port had conducted a full fledged campaign against STW including talking points and meetings with the News Tribune Editorial Board. A public records request found the email exchanges between the Port and the City. Judge Culpepper denied the request.
Two days after the court date, Arthur West filed another Citizen Action Letter pointing out the campaign the Port the others participated in. A public records request revealed the documents in email exchanges. The 45 day time clock for action by the Public Disclosure Commission is ticking and is about to run out.
STW is keeping an eye on this very important development in this case.
During court arguments in December, the two sides argued over whether a public agency like the Port, can use public funds (money spent on the lawsuit against STW that tossed off the ballot our water protection initiatives) and public facilities. The State argued the Port, Chamber and EDB needed to disclose their activities with the Public Disclosure Commission.
The political power brokers’ lead attorney, representing the Chamber, argued that filing a lawsuit was part of the Port’s normal activities and was not campaigning and therefore no need to disclose with the PDC. The attorneys for the EDB and Chamber sang the same song.
The tune stuck a chord with the judge and after just 20 minutes in his chamber, he re-entered the courtroom and presented the political power brokers their early Christmas gift, a dismissal.
The judge listened to arguments about when a political campaign starts. The PDC law is very clear. STW had to file reports within two weeks of any campaign activity, which included our petitioning activity that began in January of 2016. The PDC clearly wants the public to know what is going on with citizen initiative campaigns and who or what organizations are funding the sponsors and the opponents of issues headed to the ballot. Fair enough. Citizens do that all the time. But now, with this ruling, a single judge (who retired a month after this ruling) has now given the green light to all public agencies to use taxpayer funds to sue citizen groups and not tell anyone! Wow, just when we thought things could not get worse, they did. At the very end of the court hearing the taxpayers came under yet another attack.
After the judge gave his gift dismissal ruling, Carolyn Lake, attorney for the POT (Port of Tacoma) popped up like a Jack-in-the Box asking the judge to pay for the legal fees and costs involved with the AG’s lawsuit against them and the other defendants.
Judge Culpepper is all primed for his next go round with his friends in motions requesting more than $140,000 in legal fees. The POT and their rich powerful friends want the taxpayers to pay their legal fees again. Does anyone besides me, think their legal bills will be padded?
A small group of dedicated people witnessed this amazing, unprecedented attack on the initiative process on Friday late afternoon, when most people had taken the day off early to celebrate the Christmas Holiday week-end. If, correction, when the judge gives the POT, EDB and the Chamber their legal fees, that will mean our tax dollars will be used yet again to pay attorneys’ fees to prevent voters from voting on protecting our water.
One thing is for sure, the only winners in the case are the attorneys cashing their checks for legal fees that are undermining the citizens right to vote. They should all be ashamed of themselves not racing to the bank to cash their checks.
Kate Martin wrote this report for the News Tribune http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/politics-government/article120992953.html
Let the people vote!
In August, the AGO filed the lawsuit in response to a Citizen Action letter filed by Olympia resident and long time activist Arthur West. The State Attorney General’s Office (“AGO”) filed a case in Pierce County Superior Court alleging campaign finance violations by Port of Tacoma officials, the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County (“the EDB”), and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce (“the Chamber”).
The complaint alleges that Port officials violated RCW 42.17A.555 by using public funds and facilities to litigate against two ballot propositions promoted by Save Tacoma Water. The AGO alleges that the POT, EDB and the Chamber violated RCW 42.17A.255 by failing to disclose independent expenditures they made opposing the propositions in the same lawsuit.
Save Tacoma Water sent a letter to Attorney General Bob Ferguson asking the AG to include the City of Tacoma in the lawsuit filed against the Port of Tacoma et al for violating RCW 42.17A. A public records request submitted by STW revealed a six page document called Confidentiality and Common Interest Agreement between the City of Tacoma and the Port of Tacoma.
It was August 15, 2016 when the Washington State Attorney General filed the lawsuit against the Port of Tacoma, Tacoma/Pierce County Chamber of Commerce and the Pierce County Economic Development Board for using public funds and facilities against the Water Protection Petition – a citizen initiative sponsored by Save Tacoma Water. The News Release sent out by his office reads in part:
The complaint alleges that Port officials violated RCW 42.17A.555 by using public funds and facilities against two ballot propositions promoted by the group “Save Tacoma Water.” The AGO alleges that the EDB and the Chamber violated RCW 42.17A.255 by failing to disclose independent expenditures they made opposing the propositions in the same lawsuit.
The AGO filed the lawsuit in response to a Citizen Action letter filed by Olympia resident and long time activist Arthur West. In 20 days the defendants must respond. Well, that hasn’t yet. Apparently the AG’s office has agreed to an extension for the response.
From the AGO News Release: “Washington’s campaign disclosure laws demand transparency and accountability,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “Washington elections, including the financial forces that drive them, will take place in the clear light of day.”
Arthur West’s letter claimed public funds (Pierce County taxpayers), were being illegally used in the expenditures for the Port’s lawsuit against STW. On July 1, 2016, Judge Nevin tossed off the ballot the voters right to vote on whether a water permit should be issued to a water user needing more than a million gallons of fresh water a day. The AG complaint “piles on”, as it is known in the legal world (where charges are added to the original complaint) – adding the charge of use public facilities, which is a more serious offense. What is noteworthy is, the AG’s lawsuit names the Port of Tacoma Commissioners personally. Now the shoe is on the other foot as the Port’s lawsuit against STW personally named Donna Waters and Sherry Bockwinkel plus Jon and Jane Does 1-5 – in the power brokers attempt to intimidate all the leaders of the volunteer citizen group. A court date has not yet been set and no response as of this latest update.