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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Mayoral recall vote could face delay

Organizers of an effort to oust Mayor Jim West were reviewing the wording of their recall petition Tuesday after receiving a green light from a judge on one of the allegations in their ballot proposal.

But state election law could delay signature-gathering until at least the fall, and an election until next year, if West decides to appeal, an attorney said.

“We’ve got lots of volunteers that are ready and raring to go,” said Rita Amunrud, who has been helping recall sponsor Shannon Sullivan.

But those volunteers can’t circulate petitions at this point, even though Benton County Superior Court Judge Craig Matheson ruled Monday that one allegation against West was legally sufficient to continue with the recall process set down by law.

That allegation contends West “solicited internships for young men for his own personal uses.” To back that up, Sullivan had submitted articles and transcripts of Internet conversations between West and other men published by The Spokesman-Review.

West’s attorneys had argued Monday that offering internships was part of his official duties as mayor, and there was no evidence that he had done anything improper. Even if West had contacted men on Gay.com, which his attorney Susan Troppmann described as a secure site where he had some expectation of privacy, that wasn’t an official act that could be termed misfeasance, she said.

Matheson disagreed, saying that he wasn’t ruling on whether the actions took place, only if the information was sufficient to proceed with a recall, which is ultimately decided by voters. “If he’s offering jobs … exchanging photographs and asking them to keep that secret, it seems a violation,” the judge said.

After the wording of the recall petition is studied by an attorney, organizers will file it with the county elections office and put it on their Web site in a template that can be printed out and circulated, Amunrud said. They don’t expect to have an office and phone number until signature-gathering begins, although at this point they are using Amunrud’s home phone to collect messages.

But if West appeals Matheson’s ruling, signature-gathering could be put on hold until the state Supreme Court hears the appeal.

West said late Monday that he was considering an appeal and would be discussing it with his attorneys “in the next couple of days.” But he has up to 30 days to file the appeal.

Petition organizers thought he had only 15 days, based on the wording of the state law on recalls, but deputy attorney general Jeffrey Even said that statute is a bit misleading.

The state Supreme Court has rules for appellate procedure that take precedence over the statutes, and those rules specifically mention the recall statutes, said Even, who studied the law earlier this year when a recall of Secretary of State Sam Reed was proposed. While an appeal of a recall petition goes directly to the Supreme Court without the normal intervening stop at an appeals court, it wouldn’t necessarily be on a fast track.

“We regularly handle recall cases with a normal briefing schedule,” a court spokesman said.

Another complicating factor is the Supreme Court’s schedule, which closes out the spring session on June 30, well before that 30-day deadline lapses. The court is not scheduled to be back in session until Sept. 13.

Recall petition sponsors could ask the high court for an accelerated review sometime during the summer recess, but they would have to cite a reason and the court would have to agree.

That’s not unprecedented on elections cases; the court held special sessions last December for legal disputes surrounding the gubernatorial revote. But it’s not automatic.

Elections cases do take precedence over some other cases, so the court could hear the case in September if both sides are ready. But a ruling would have to be handed down by Sept. 23 to make the state deadline for the Nov. 8 general election.

“It could mean they don’t get it on the ballot until 2006,” Even said.

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