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WA Supreme Court decision on Yates

OLYMPIA — The Washington Supreme Court handed serial killer Robert Yates what could be a pyrrhic victory in his appeal of his 408-year sentence for 13 murders and one attempted murder.

Yes, the court said in a 7-2 ruling, the two 20-year-sentences for a pair of 1975 murders were incorrectly calculated. But given that you aren't getting out of prison in this lifetime, anyway, it's essentially no harm, no foul, case dismissed.

As part of his agreement that allowed him to escape the death penalty, Yates agreed that if he challenged his sentence, Spokane County could file the one murder charge it was holding back, and seek the death penalty if it got a conviction on that murder. That didn't keep him from appealing his sentence, the Supreme Court said, but it also means Spokane County could now file that case and seek the death penalty.

But Yates already has been sentenced to death for two murders in Pierce County, and Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said he's not sure Spokane would file that charge and give him another 10 to 15 years of appeals.

Full story can be found here. To read the court's decision on Yates's appeal, technically known as a personal restraint petition, click here.

Email secrecy costs Shoreline over $500k

SEATTLE (AP) — The city of Shoreline's failure to turn over email records in response to a Public Records Act request is costing it nearly $539,000.

King County Superior Court Judge Monica Benton on Friday ordered the city to pay more than $438,000 in attorney costs and fees, in addition to the $100,000 officials already agreed to pay to the plaintiffs, Beth and Doug O'Neill.

The nearly seven-year dispute began at a September 2006 City Council meeting in which then-Deputy Mayor Maggie Fimia read aloud an email she said she had received from Beth O'Neill. O'Neill didn't send the message, so she filed a records request to see who did.

Before handing it over, Fimia removed the part of the email that indicated the sender. And then she deleted the email itself.

The case went up to the state Supreme Court, which ruled that email “metadata” — data about data itself, in this case the “from” field — is public under the law.

The Seattle Times reports (http://is.gd/V4jILt ) that Shoreline spokesman Eric Bratton said the city is disappointed in the ruling and evaluating its options.

Program to find reduced-price lawyers

A first-of-its-kind program that pairs lawyers and law students to help middle-class families in need of legal work begins in Spokane this week.

Dignitaries including Washington Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez, Gonzaga Law School Dean Jane Korn and Spokane City Attorney Nancy Isserlis will announce the program at a 10:30 a.m. event today.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Split justices uphold murder convictions

In a split decision, the Washington Supreme Court has upheld the murder convictions against two Spokane men who were convicted in connection with the kidnapping, torture and execution-style killing of another man in 2005 over $800 worth of methamphetamine.

The court, in a 5-4 decision, upheld the aggravated first-degree murder conviction of Theodore M. Kosewicz, 44, and felony murder conviction of Robert A. Brown, 47, who were both convicted of killing 25-year-old Sebastian Esquibel.

His badly decomposed remains were discovered on Jan. 16, 2006, under a wood pile. He was bound by jumper cables and shot in the head. Testimony indicated that he had been kidnapped and tortured for two days before he was killed.

While upholding the Kosewicz conviction, four justices dissented on the murder conviction against Brown after the Division III Court of Appeals earlier had dismissed the first-degree kidnapping convictions against both men.

Since Brown did not take part in the killing, four justices questioned the legal basis for his conviction and instead would have sent the case back to Spokane County for a new trial.
  

Man’s rendering conviction overturned

The Washington State Supreme Court Thursday overturned the conviction of a Spokane man who was convicted of rendering criminal assistance after investigators alleged that he refused to tell them who shot him.

The split decision erases the conviction, in which a judge sentenced Kenneth R. Budik to spend more time in prison than the two men who pleaded guilty to the 2007 shooting that injured him and killed 28-year-old Adama R. Walton.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Past coverage:

Read an in-depth story on the case here.

Ex-justice to serve on Zehm committee

Gerry Alexander, who retired last year as the chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court, will serve on the city's Use of Force Commission.

The commission was created last year by former Mayor Mary Verner to review the city's handling of the police confrontation that resulted in the death of Otto Zehm in 2006.

Read more at the Spin Control blog. 

Court: Internal police probes are public

By MIKE BAKER,Associated Press
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The public release of investigative records does not violate the privacy of law enforcement officers who are accused of misconduct but cleared of any wrongdoing, Washington's Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Justices agreed by a margin of 8-1 that the public has a right to know the details of internal investigations. But, in a split decision that led only four of the nine justices to write the lead opinion, the court determined that Bainbridge Island police officer Steven Cain's identity should be redacted when documents in his case are released.

Open government lawyer Michele Earl-Hubbard, who filed a brief in the case on behalf of newspapers, said she's concerned that setting a precedent of redacting the names of accused workers will make it difficult to expose those who have multiple complaints filed against them. Still, she said the ruling is a victory for disclosure because there was an increasing trend of law enforcement departments withholding documents.

“It's a practical victory,” Earl-Hubbard said. “It gives us a way to get some records and have some oversight and not leave us completely in the dark.”

Four of the justices agreed that disclosure with Cain's name redacted was the right decision, while four others, including Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, argued that the full document should be released. Justice James Johnson said the entire document should be kept private.

Madsen wrote that redacting the name does not align with the letter or the spirit of state public records law.

“The public has the right to know about allegations of such misconduct, investigation into alleged misconduct, and corrective measures that may have been taken,” she said. “Only by access to this kind of information can the people assure integrity of government action.”

A driver had accused Cain of sexual assault and strangulation during a September 2007 traffic stop. An investigation conducted by the Puyallup Police Department, at the request of the Bainbridge Island police chief, was turned over to prosecutors who determined that there was not sufficient evidence to establish that Cain had acted inappropriately.

After reporters requested the investigative records, the Bainbridge Island Police Guild and Cain filed a complaint to prevent Bainbridge Island from releasing the documents. A judge initially ruled that production of any portion of the reports would violate Cain's right to privacy.

Bob Christie, an attorney representing the Bainbridge Island Police Guild, said he would have liked to see the courts support the privacy of the full records. But he said the redactions will provide some protection for public workers so that their names won't be tarnished by unsubstantiated allegations.

“In today's communication world, once it's out there and connected with a name, a lot of members of the public wont looked past to the fact that it was unsubstantiated,” Christie said.

The case provides little refuge for Cain, whose name is on record because of the court case. But Cain's case will aid other workers in the future, Christie said.

Edgar Steele disbarred in Washington

Idaho attorney Edgar Steele won’t be representing any Washington clients from his jail cell. 

The Washington Supreme Court suspended Steele Wednesday from practicing in the state pending disciplinary proceedings that could result in disbarment.

Steele faces at least 30 years in a federal prison for his May 5 conviction on four charges related to his attempt to have another man kill his wife and mother-in-law.

He is in the federal custody awaiting sentencing in August.

Until he commissioned a bogus hitman, Steele was best known for his unsuccessful defense of Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler.

Steele's lawyer, Robert McAlister, was recently disbarred in Colorado.

From ‘Baby Ryan’ fame to disbarment

The Washington Supreme Court disbarred a prominent Spokane attorney Thursday after his client complained the lawyer charged him $25,000 to settle a minor dispute over the lease price of a car.

The high court ruled unanimously to uphold the disbarment of Russell Van Camp, who has represented National Right to Life advocates and anti-abortion activists throughout the West. The court said he misled his client about the nature of the $25,000 fee and didn’t follow through with the client’s desire to quickly settle the case.

Read the rest of Tom Clouses's story here.

Van Camp (pictured in 2004) gained national attention in 1994 when he took on the case of a baby born with dead kidneys, possible brain damage and other health problems. Doctors tried to withhold lifesaving dialysis and persuaded the family to let the baby die, but they hired Van Camp instead, and the case gained national media attention.

A 1994 Spokesman-Review profile of Van Camp described him as not being known in Spokane legal circles for his legal mind, rather “Van Camp relies on his people skills.”

“I have maximized the average intelligence I have,” he said at the time. “A good trial lawyer’s an actor upon the stage. I’m just a glorified vacuum cleaner salesman.”

In response to discipline by the Washignton State Bar Association, Van Camp said in 1994 that the association and other attorney were cliquish, jealous of his practice and bitter about losing to him.

A Pat Robertson delegate to the 1988 Republican National Convention, Van Camp said he also believes he’s unpopular because he’s one of the country’s few Christians who have made lawyering a success.

“I make no apologies for the person I am. I yam what I yam,” Van Camp says in a bad Popeye impression. “I’m winning and making money.”

Read the full profile from December 1994 here.

Racial remarks overturn murder case

By GENE JOHNSON,Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) — The Washington state Supreme Court overturned a man's murder conviction Thursday because of what one justice described as “repugnant” racial comments made by the prosecutor during the trial.

Kevin L. Monday Jr., who is black, was convicted in a 2006 shooting in Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood after a street musician's video camera captured him firing the shots that killed Francisco Green.

During the trial, longtime deputy King County prosecutor James Konat, who is white, repeatedly questioned recalcitrant witnesses by making references to the “po-leese” and to a supposed “code” of silence that kept witnesses from cooperating with officers. Konat told the jury, “The code is, black folk don't testify against black folk.”

The comments had the ultimate effect of casting doubt on the credibility of the witnesses based on their race, Justice Tom Chambers wrote for the majority.

“The notion that the state's representative in a criminal trial, the prosecutor, should seek to achieve a conviction by resorting to racist arguments is so fundamentally opposed to our founding principles, values, and fabric of our justice system that it should not need to be explained,” the opinion said.

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen similarly criticized the remarks in her concurrence: “The appeals to racism here by an officer of the court are so repugnant to the fairness, integrity, and justness of the criminal justice system that reversal is required.”

Monday will be tried again — with a different prosecutor handling the case.

“It's never OK to invite jurors to convict someone based on racial biases, and we're glad the court recognized that,” said Monday's attorney, Nancy Collins.

Konat's boss, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, said he agrees the comments were inappropriate and offensive, and his office never argued otherwise. Instead, the issue before the court was whether a new trial was necessary, given the video of the shooting and Monday's admission that he fired the shots.

“The deputy prosecutor deeply regrets his remarks,” Satterberg said in a written statement. “He has been told, in no uncertain terms, that those arguments are unacceptable.”

The King County prosecutor's office instituted new training for prosecutors as a result of the case, spokesman Dan Donohoe said. Konat was not formally disciplined.

Konat is currently prosecuting Isaiah Kalebu, who is charged with murder in a rape and stabbing attack on a lesbian couple in South Seattle two years ago. He was focusing on that trial Thursday and unavailable for comment, Donohoe said.

The five justices who signed the majority opinion found that Monday must receive a new trial because the prosecutor's error was not “harmless” — meaning it could have affected the jury's decision. They noted that although the video captured the shooting, it could not establish that Monday acted with premeditation or whether he might have had other legal defenses for his actions.

Three justices, including Madsen, signed a concurring opinion which held that Monday deserved a new trial even if the comments were harmless.

Justice James Johnson voted against granting him a new trial.

“Even if the prosecutor's comments arguably tainted the jury's impressions of some witnesses, this could not affect the jury's perception of the videotape and other evidence,” Johnson wrote in his dissent.

Hundreds of state convictions in doubt

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) — At least 17 criminal convictions in Whatcom County could be overturned on appeal because jurors were questioned inside a judge's chambers, possibly violating the defendants' rights to a public trial.

The Bellingham Herald reports appeals courts have been overturning cases based on state Supreme Court rulings and sending them back for new trials.

Pam Loginsky with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys says similar appeals could affect hundreds of cases statewide.

In Spokane, legal experts say at least one case and no more than a few overall could be affected.

The association has asked the state Supreme Court to revisit a 1995 ruling in a Whatcom County case on public trials.

DeLeon’s siblings can’t file death claims

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The adoptive siblings of a 7-year-old boy who died of starvation in the care of his adoptive mother can't sue for wrongful death, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled today.

The estate of Tyler DeLeon (pictured) had filed wrongful death claims against the boy's primary care physician and his psychiatrist and also alleged they were aware of the boy's injuries but failed to report them under the state's mandatory reporting law.

The high court affirmed a Spokane County Superior Court decision to dismiss a portion of the case against Dr. David Fregeau, the Rockwood Clinic, and psychiatrist Sandra Bremner-Dexter. But the Supreme Court said the doctors could be sued for failing to report the abuse.

The state Department of Social and Health Services and three employees also were sued, but the agency separately agreed to pay more than $6 million to Tyler's estate and other foster children in a 2008 settlement.

Tyler weighed only 28 pounds when he died Jan. 13, 2005, the day he turned 7. His adoptive mother, Carole DeLeon, was sentenced to six years in prison after entering a plea to criminally mistreating Tyler and another boy in her care. She was released last year after serving half of her sentence.

 The lawsuit on behalf of the boy and his adoptive siblings cites an extensive history of abuse complaints and health concerns regarding foster children at the DeLeon home, including broken bones, knocked-out teeth and withholding of food and water.

Tyler's adoptive siblings are considered second-tier beneficiaries under the state's wrongful death law, which means they can recover damages under that law only if they were dependent upon him for support. Their lawsuit against the doctors argued that they did depend upon him because DSHS provided $717 month in adoption support to Carole DeLeon for Tyler.

The doctors argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that Tyler's estate and his adoptive siblings were not financially dependent upon them. The high court said “DSHS provided separate payments to Carole DeLeon to supplement her support of other children in her home.”

“I knew that we had a tough case it make, but I thought it was worth the effort since I think not compensating Tyler or Tyler's estate for what he suffered through is just wrong,” said Allen M. Ressler, a Seattle attorney representing the plaintiffs. “The legislation as written right now makes no sense to me.”

Justice Gerry L. Alexander concurred with the majority opinion, signed by eight justices, on the issue of whether the siblings were qualified to bring wrongful death claims. But he dissented with his colleagues on whether the doctors could be sued for failing to report child abuse or neglect.

The majority said the mandatory reporting law doesn't explicitly provide a civil remedy against a practitioner who fails to report suspected abuse but said it was implied as a means of enforcing the reporting duty. Alexander said the conclusion contradicts what the Legislature intended, which was to make it a misdemeanor crime to report child abuse.

Prosecutors want Sanders off cases

SEATTLE (AP) — Prosecutors in five Washington counties want former Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders barred from continuing to rule on cases — an effort he calls a blatant attempt to manipulate the court. 

Sanders (left) was narrowly defeated by Charlie Wiggins (right) in his bid for a fourth term last fall, and his tenure on the court expired last month.

Following historical practice, the remaining justices gave him an extra two months to wrap up the 70 or so cases in which he heard arguments that the court has not yet ruled on.

Previous temporary appointments of justices have garnered little attention, but the one given to Sanders — a self-described libertarian who often sides with defendants — raised the ire of prosecutors from King, Clallam, Snohomish, Skagit and Grant counties.

They asked the court to revoke it on the grounds that the state Constitution allows only judges or retired judges — not defeated ones — to be appointed pro-tem. 

The high court unanimously rejected the requests without explanation.

“It doesn't appear that there's any mechanism that allows him to be appointed as a pro-tem, so he probably shouldn't be appointed as a pro-tem,” said Grant County Prosecutor Angus Lee. Sanders said Thursday the prosecutors singled him out because they don't like his views.

Click the link below to read the rest of the story by Associated Press writer Gene Johnson.

High court throws out murder conviction

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington's Supreme Court threw out a defendant's aggravated murder conviction Thursday because he wasn't present when his lawyers, prosecutors and judge agreed by e-mail to dismiss seven people from his jury pool.

In the 5-4 decision, the justices said criminal defendants have a right to be present at all critical trial stages — including the dismissal of jurors for hardship reasons. Terrance Irby was not there and was not consulted when his legal team agreed with a suggestion by Skagit County Superior Court Judge John Meyer that certain potential jurors be sent home.

“Their alleged inability to serve was never tested by questioning in Irby's presence,” Justice Gerry Alexander wrote for the majority. “Indeed, they were not questioned at all.”

The ruling was the second time that unseated Justice Richard Sanders has been in a 5-4 majority overturning a defendant's conviction since his term expired Jan. 10. Sanders, a libertarian who has often sided with defendants who come before the court, was defeated in his re-election bid by Justice Charles Wiggins last fall.

The remaining members of the court have appointed Sanders as a temporary judge to rule on cases whose oral arguments he heard before his term expired.

Skagit County prosecutors, however, tried to have Sanders kicked off Irby's case this month. They argued that the state Constitution allows only judges who retire voluntarily — not those whose authority has been revoked by the voters — to be appointed as temporary judges. If the remaining eight justices who heard the oral arguments were deadlocked, the case should be reheard with Wiggins sitting, they wrote.

The court unanimously denied the motion in a one-page order.

Irby, then 48, was convicted in 2007 of beating and stabbing an acquaintance, James Rock, two years earlier. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.

Skagit County deputy prosecutor Erik Pedersen said the state might ask to court to reconsider its ruling, but failing that, prosecutors will retry Irby.

The jurors were dismissed after filling out questionnaires evaluating their qualifications for serving on a jury, but before the process known as “voir dire,” in which attorneys on each side question them about potential biases or other issues. Six were dismissed for hardship reasons, and one was dismissed after writing that one of his or her parents had been murdered.

The dissenting justices wrote that the hardship dismissals were administrative and well within the purview of the trial court; there was no reason Irby needed to be there for that. But the dismissal of the juror whose parent had been murdered was related to the substance of the case and therefore Irby should have been present, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote.

Nevertheless, she said, that error was harmless: Defendants do not have a right to have a specific juror on their case, and there's no evidence the jury he had was biased against him.

“We should recognize and give effect to this distinction so that the constitutional right of a defendant to be present at critical stages of the trial is protected while at the same time preserving the trial court's discretion to make administrative decisions,” Madsen wrote.

Justices Charles Johnson, James Johnson and Mary Fairhurst signed the dissent.

Justices Tom Chambers, Susan Owens and Debra Stephens joined Sanders and Alexander in the majority.

Irby's attorney, David Koch, called the decision extremely important.

“This reaffirms the right to be present for the selection of one's jury,” he said.

Stephens ‘most influential’ on high court

OLYMPIA — Justice Debra Stephens, the Washington Supreme Court's newest member, is also its most influential, a conservative think tank says.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation gave Stephens, the first woman from Eastern Washington to serve on the state's highest court, its first-ever ranking of most influential.

The group based that on the number of majority decisions written, the number of times she's been in the majority, the number of votes that support the opinions she's written, and the number of times she's been the key vote in close cases.

Writing in the group's Supreme Court of Washington Blog, Michael Reitz said that last year, the court had 22 cases that were decided 5-4. Stephens wrote six of those opinions, the most of any justice. and she was in the majority 75 percent of the time, also more than any justice.

Court OK’s solitary for death row inmate

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The state Supreme Court ruled today that it was OK for corrections officials to move a death row inmate to solitary confinement after a special housing unit 

that allowed him more privileges was closed due to budget cuts.

In a 7-2 ruling, the high court dismissed a petition by Jonathan Gentry (pictured), who argued that the move unlawfully changed the terms of his sentence. Gentry was sentenced to death in 1991 for killing a 12-year-old girl in Kitsap County.

Under Department of Corrections regulations, after a year in solitary confinement, qualified inmates can be transferred to another unit where they are allowed daily contact with other inmates and family contact visits.

However, that special housing unit was closed in 2009 due to budget cuts, and Gentry argued that his return to solitary confinement was a constitutionally impermissible increase in the severity of his punishment.

The majority, lead by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, said neither the state nor U.S. constitutions create a “liberty interest in a particular form of prison housing, absent allegations of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, which Gentry does not assert.”

The majority wrote that that housing in the special unit is a privilege that can end through no fault of the prisoner, including budget cuts. And because all death row inmates start out in solitary confinement, being returned there does not create a harsher sentence than they first faced.

Also signing on to the majority opinion were Justices Susan Owens, Charles Johnson, Mary Fairhurst, Gerry Alexander, Jim Johnson, and Tom Chambers.

The dissent, written by Justice Debra Stephens, argued the petition should be heard in superior court to address some unanswered questions.

The state's claim that the closure of the unit was prompted by budget cuts “is arguably a valid administrative reason,” Stephens wrote. “However, budget cuts do not necessarily explain why the graduated system of prisoner benefits, most notably contact visits with family, had to be cut as well.”

Stephens also wrote that the question of whether moving prisoners back to solitary confinement is a violation of their sentencing terms is a question that affects all death row inmates. Gentry is among eight prisoners on death row at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He has been on death row longer than any other current death row inmate. Since 1904, 78 men have been put to death in Washington.

“It is necessary to have a more complete factual record as to DOC's policies regarding conditions of confinement as they presently exist and as they existed at the time of Gentry's crime and sentence,” she wrote. Justice Richard Sanders signed on to the dissent.

Jail-for-court-debt process sparks suit

After crashing into another car during a police chase in 2001, Spokane resident Lisa Orvis served eight months in jail and was ordered to pay $24,000 restitution.

 A decade of accrued interest later, she owes the county $70,000 and has spent seven or eight stints at the Spokane County Jail for nonpayment.

Orvis doesn’t dispute that she owes the money. But she questions the legal process that put her in jail without a lawyer or a chance to explain herself.

“I never saw a judge, and I never went to any kind of hearing,” said Orvis, 45.

The state Supreme Court ruled that system unconstitutional last summer.

“What they haven’t ruled on is how all the hundreds of people who were jailed unconstitutionally should be compensated,” said Spokane lawyer Breean Beggs.

Beggs filed a complaint against Spokane County this month in U.S. District Court on behalf of Orvis and everyone else jailed under the county’s previous court collection system. A judge will determine whether it can proceed as a class-action suit.

Read my full story here.

Past coverage:

May 24, 2009: Debt to society

Supreme Court ponders: Who is the state?

OLYMPIA — The federal lawsuit in Florida over health care reform raises many interesting questions about state’s rights and federal mandates. But it also sparked some interesting debates today in the Washington Supreme Court over who represents the state in a legal dispute, and even, what is the state.

Read today’s report on City of Seattle v. Rob McKenna by clicking here.

Court ruling upholds online sex sting

The Washington Supreme Court, in a three-way opinion, has upheld the conviction of a man who tried to have sex with a 13-year-old girl he’d met online who really was a Spokane police detective.

All justices agreed with the ruling that upheld the attempted second-degree child rape conviction against Mitel H. Patel, (pictured) rejecting the man’s claim that the case should be thrown out because there was no actual underage victim.

Two sets of judges that agreed with the overall ruling but disagreed with the majority opinion submitted separate concurring opinions. “It’s really helpful to have some degree of clarification,” said Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Ed Hay, who supervises the sex offender unit. “It’s great to have some clarity and certainly will help investigators feel comfortable being proactive in their investigations.”

Read Tom Clouse’s story here.

Past coverage:

Dec. 2, 2004: Man charged with online sex solicitation

Wiggins takes lead, has voting trends on his side

Former Appeals Court Judge Charlie Wiggins took a narrow lead over incumbent Justice Richard Sanders in Washington’s tight Supreme Court race Tuesday afternoon.
An analysis of voting patterns suggests Wiggins will finish ahead of Sanders and take his place on the state’s highest court when all remaining ballots are counted.
Sanders, an outspoken jurist with libertarian leanings, was first elected to the state’s highest court in 1995 and re-elected twice since. He has held a narrow lead since the Election Night.
But he has consistently trailed in King County, which has about one-third of the state’s voters, and a handful of other counties, mostly west of the Cascades. On Tuesday, King County tabulated about 45,000 of its outstanding ballots, and Wiggins inched ahead. Thirteen other counties also added to their totals, but Wiggins ended the night with a lead of about 3,600 votes.

Wiggins takes lead…can he keep it?

Challenger Charlie Wiggins has taken the lead of about 3,500 votes over Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders on the strength of King County ballots tabulated at 4:30 p.m. Pierce and several other counties,  where Sanders has been ahead since election night, are scheduled to report at 5 p.m. or slightly later.

Stay tuned.

Sanders gets 4 emails in disclosure case

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — An unanimous state Supreme Court on Thursday awarded Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders four additional documents and additional legal fees in his public records lawsuit against the state.

Sanders (pictured) sued the state in 2005 after he was admonished for talking with residents at the state’s center for violent sexual predators at McNeil Island while some residents had pending court cases. He wants all documents related to the visit, including e-mail among state attorneys.

But the high court affirmed much of an earlier Thurston County Superior Court ruling that held that most of the more than 100 exempt documents Sanders was seeking were properly withheld.

The Supreme Court said four additional e-mails were improperly withheld and should have been released.

The court granted Sanders’ additional legal fees incurred during the appeal, and awarded him a penalty based on the additional documents released, but rejected his request for an increase in the penalty rate against the state.

Read the rest of the Associated Press story by clicking the link below.

Attorney seeks stay for death row inmate

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Attorneys for a death row inmate who is scheduled to be executed this month have filed a request for an emergency stay with the Washington state Supreme Court. 

Cal Coburn Brown argues that his death sentence should be reversed because information related to his mental illness was not adequately considered during sentencing.

Brown reportedly suffers from bipolar disorder. He is scheduled to be executed on Sept. 10 for the 1991 torture and murder of 22-year-old Holly Washa, a Burien woman.

Brown also has filed an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He is challenging, among other things, the state’s new one-drug system for lethal injection.

Brown is incarcerated at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Past coverage:

July 29, 2010: Wash. Supreme Court lifts stay of execution for Brown

March 12, 2009: Wash. Supreme Court stays Brown execution

June 5, 2007: U.S. Supreme Court reinstates killer’s death sentence

Court ruling brings relief to court debtors

Offenders who owe court fees and fines are no longer being forced to agree to a pre-determined jail sentence if they fail to make scheduled payments.

The Washington state Supreme Court has ruled that people with court debts are entitled to a new hearing to gauge their ability to pay.

Someone who lost his or her job, for instance, or who was hospitalized might be given the chance to make a new payment arrangement and avoid automatic jail time, said Scott Mason, an assistant Spokane County public defender.

Read the rest of Jody Lawrence-Turner’s story here.

Past coverage:

May 24, 2009: Unpaid court fines land convicts back in jail

Court Won’t Protect Petitioner IDs

Item: Court refuses to keep petitioner IDs private/Spokesman-Review

More Info: The Supreme Court says people who signed a petition to repeal Washington state’s gay rights law do not have the right to keep their names secret from the public. The high court on Thursday ruled against Protect Marriage Washington, which organized a petition drive for a public vote to repeal the state’s “everything-but-marriage” gay rights law. Petition signers wanted to hide their names because of worries of intimidation.

Question: Do you agree with this decision?

Lawyer who targeted client’s cash disbarred

By Thomas Clouse

One Spokane lawyer has been disbarred and another suspended from practicing law for three years by the Washington State Supreme Court for separate transgressions regarding their clients’ finances.

Robert E. Beach III has been suspended for failing to comply with the rules of professional conduct regarding his handling of client accounts, according to court records.

Also last week, David Hellenthal was disbarred after he refused to return clients’ money after they learned Hellenthal had been suspended for other previous financial transgressions.

According to court records, Hellenthal helped two women in 2007 obtain control of their ailing husbands’ property or finances without consulting the husbands.

In one case, Hellenthal set himself up to receive a client’s $170,000 inheritance if the client died.

Read an article on Hellenthal from 2007 that details the misconduct:

Spokane attorney suspended for misconduct

Supremes schedule R-71 hearing

OLYMPIA — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on April 28 whether the names on ballot measure petitions are public records.

The Washington Secretary of State’s office announced this afternoon that the date has been set on a case that is getting national attention because it involves a series of First Amendment and public records issues.

The information at the heart of the case are the names and addresses on the petitions to put Referendum 71 on last fall’s ballot. After the Legslature expanded rights for same-sex couples last spring, opponents gathered signatures to let voters overturn the bill. Supporters of gay rights requested the names under the state’s public records law, but referendum sponsors objected, saying the signers could be subjected to harassment.

Although the state has previously released the names from initiative and referendum campaigns, judges have disagreed over whether the names in this case are public records. Most recently, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said they are, but that ruling is on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court decides the case.

Another guilty verdict for would-be meth cook

A Newport man whose intent to manufacture methamphetamine conviction was thrown out by the state supreme court because of procedural error was re-convicted Wednesday by a Spokane jury.

Virgil Montgomery has already served his 51-month prison sentence imposed after he and a friend were arrested in 2004 with five of the nine ingredients needed to manufacture the drug.

The Washington Supreme Court tossed his conviction in an unanimous ruling in May 2008 and ordered a new trial because of procedural errors.

One justice even noted that Montgomery’s “conviction was supported by substantial evidence,” according to this article here. (Read an editorial here.)

But procedural errors dogged the conviction, and another jury was called to decide Montgomery’s guilt. It took about three hours to reach the same verdict the previous jury did: Guilty.

Deputy Prosecutor David Stevens declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“I could be subject to disbarment if I were to say anything negative about the opinion,” Stevens said.