In an escalating battle over the legitimacy of Spokane’s Municipal Court, city lawyers will seek an emergency stay today of a Division III Court of Appeals ruling last week that threatens to overturn 12 years worth of misdemeanor convictions and trigger the refund of millions of dollars of paid fines.
If the ruling stands, it could invalidate every DUI and domestic violence conviction and all contested speeding and parking tickets issued between 1995 and Jan. 1, when the court was operated as a municipal department, according to several legal experts.
The city will move for reconsideration at the appeals court while filing a petition for discretionary review with the Washington state Supreme Court, probably today, said City Attorney Jim Craven.
“We are moving very quickly on this,” Craven said.
Meanwhile, the city Public Defender’s Office filed a motion late Tuesday with the Court of Appeals to release about 116 inmates at the Spokane County Jail or Geiger Corrections Center whose convictions are cast into doubt by the ruling.
The motion applies to all inmates represented by the city public defender who are being held on pre-Dec. 31, 2006, convictions, said City Public Defender Kathy Knox. After the motion on the emergency stay, “I’ll be moving in trial court for their release,” Knox said.
The impact of the appeals court ruling is “potentially widespread,” Assistant City Prosecutor Michelle Szambelan said in her motion for a stay of the case, brought by the Center for Justice on behalf of Lawrence J. Rothwell.
Denial of a stay “opens the proverbial floodgates, and tens of thousands of cases will be subject to an argument that the Rothwell decision affords them relief,” the motion says.
Breean Beggs of the Center for Justice, the lawyer who challenged the legitimacy of the municipal court, says he will oppose the city’s motion for an emergency stay.
In his appeal, Beggs argued Rothwell’s conviction was invalid because contrary to state law, city voters didn’t elect the municipal judges in the Spokane County District Court system.