Critics hoping to boot Spokane County’s coroner from office for condemning homosexuality received permission Friday to launch a recall drive.
While Dexter Amend’s anti-gay comments are protected free speech, a judge ruled the recall can move forward based on related charges that the coroner divulged confidential autopsy results.
Amend claims he didn’t break the law when he linked a young girl’s murder to homosexuality, because he had the family’s permission to speak out.
The ruling by visiting Adams County Superior Court Judge Richard Miller is a victory for human-rights advocates who have placed Amend under siege.
“We’re not here to pillory Dr. Amend, but the thought of three more years of him in office is somewhat abhorrent,” said Frank Malone, the attorney representing recall proponents.
The scowling coroner, a retired urologist elected last fall, refused to talk to reporters afterward.
“Recall is an extreme remedy,” said Donald Kellman, Amend’s attorney.
Amend first publicly condemned gays in early August when he told a television reporter that an autospy revealed murder victim Rachel Carver, 9, was sodomized in the past.
He said only gays engage in sodomy - a statement that triggered a barrage of protests.
While supporters rallied around him, critics called for his resignation. Gov. Mike Lowry has asked the state’s medical disciplinary board to review Amend’s performance.
There hasn’t been an attempted recall of a Spokane County elected official for at least 25 years, according to Auditor Bill Donahue.
But barring an appeal, the judge’s ruling means recall proponents may soon begin collecting signatures on petitions.
To qualify for the ballot, petitioners must gather signatures of 35,156 registered voters, representing 25 percent of the votes in the last coroner’s race.
A special election could be held as early as February, Donahue said.
Under the state constitution, officials must be charged with wrongful conduct in order to be subjected to possible recall.
In Amend’s case, the evidence amounted to the coroner’s own statements - aired on KXLY-TV the night of Aug. 8, and published in The Spokesman-Review the following morning.
The petitioners behind the recall - retired teacher Chris Christenson and political activist Barbara Lampert - testified Friday they were outraged by Amend’s anti-gay outburst.
“I felt he was using his office to broadcast his own biases and misinformation,” Christenson said.
Christenson and Lampert also accused Amend of breaching confidentiality by publicly discussing Carver’s autopsy and the fact she had been sodomized.
Amend did not testify in his defense, but Kellman said the coroner thought he had the family’s permission to talk freely about the circumstances surrounding Rachel Carver’s death.
Kellman offered as proof a typed, one-page letter from Rachel’s father, Scott Carver, dated Aug. 25.
While Carver was not the girl’s legal guardian, he states he talked earlier with Amend and gave him “complete permission” to speak out about his daughter’s past physical abuse.
Even if Carver’s after-the-fact authorization doesn’t hold water legally, Kellman argued that his client had no way of knowing that when he spoke to the press.
Kellman asked the judge to prohibit the recall, saying, “There’s not enough there to take it to the voters.”
As a fallback position, he asked that any mention of homosexuality in the ballot synopsis be deleted.
“Dr. Amend’s views on homosexuality have absolutely nothing to do with his ability to perform his duties as a coroner,” the attorney said.
On that issue, Miller agreed.
He ordered the official charges against Amend boiled down to breach of confidentiality.
Kellman said later he is considering a possible direct appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.
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