The Washington State Supreme Court will handle the possible recall of Mayor Jim West on a fast track.
After a special summer session meeting Thursday, the court ruled unanimously that it will grant an accelerated review of West’s appeal of the recall petition he faces.
“I’m pleased,” said a jubilant Shannon Sullivan, the sponsor of the petition. “I have faith in the judicial system, and it didn’t let me down.”
Attorneys for West released a brief statement saying they, too, were pleased because the court’s order for an expedited process “permits both adequate time for comprehensive legal briefing and oral argument to the Court.”
After a closed-door session, justices rejected West’s arguments that a special, speedy consideration of the proposed recall is unnecessary, even though he didn’t specifically oppose an expedited review.
“There is no emergency facing the City, nor is there a crisis, financial or otherwise, at City Hall,” West’s attorneys wrote in their July 11 response to Sullivan’s request for an expedited review of the case. “Mayor West continues to attend to his duties and the City continues to function effectively.”
Sullivan said Thursday evening she found that statement ironic in light of West’s comments earlier in the day about the dire state of the city’s finances. Apparently there’s an emergency situation now, even though there wasn’t on July 11, she said.
Without an expedited review, West’s appeal of the case would not have been heard until the court returned from its summer recess on Sept. 12, almost certainly guaranteeing the recall could not occur this year.
“I want to quote Mayor West from a few years ago: ‘Justice delayed is justice denied,’ ” Sullivan said, a reference to West’s comments in pushing unsuccessfully for an impeachment of then-Gov. Mike Lowry on allegations of sexual misconduct in 1995.
By hearing arguments during the recess, the high court opens up the possibility that petitions could be printed and enough signatures gathered before the Sept. 23 deadline for putting measures on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Sullivan, a single mother from north Spokane with no legal training, is acting as her own attorney with some recent volunteer help from local attorneys. Thursday’s ruling was the second legal battle she has won against West’s team of attorneys. The first was a hearing in front of Benton and Franklin County Superior Court Judge Craig Matheson that sufficient evidence existed for West to face a recall.
Although Matheson ruled that two of Sullivan’s allegations were not sufficient, he said she did provide enough evidence to move forward on an allegation that West misused his office by offering city internships to young men “for his own purposes.” The judge also rewrote the ballot synopsis for that allegation, adding more information about the time and place of an incident involving Internet discussions with someone he thought was an 18-year-old high school student.
That person was actually a computer specialist hired by The Spokesman-Review to help confirm the reports of another young man. That 18-year-old said he met the mayor online, went on a date with him and engaged in consensual sex. After the published reports, two more men said they, too, had met the mayor online and were offered city jobs or appointments.
West admitted engaging in the online conversations and to using “poor judgment” but denied that he did anything illegal. In arguing against the need for a speedy review, his attorneys cited the major rewriting Matheson did of the allegation as one of the potential grounds for appeal.
Jerry Davis, an attorney who recently volunteered to help Sullivan with the appeal, said he thinks that’s a weak argument because the statute gives a judge the authority to reword the ballot synopsis for a recall.
“That’s his job,” Davis said. “No one can predict an appeal, but Shannon has the facts on her side.”
Under Thursday’s Supreme Court order, West’s attorneys must submit their appeal briefs by July 28. Sullivan and anyone filing friend-of-the-court briefs must file replies by Aug. 5, and West’s attorneys must respond by Aug. 15. Oral argument will be held during the week of Aug. 22.
Sullivan has said she won’t circulate the recall petitions for signatures until the high court rules. If it rules in her favor, she hopes recall supporters are organized and ready to go that same day.
A town hall meeting to discuss the recall, answer questions about the legal process and celebrate Thursday’s ruling is scheduled for 7 p.m. this evening at CenterStage, 1017 W. First Ave.
Sullivan said she’ll be spending much of her spare time at the Gonzaga Law School Library, studying cases until West’s attorneys submit the appeal she must answer. She plans to present part of the argument to the high court against West’s appeal herself.
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