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Vol. 18, No. 3, July 18, 2005


This Reveille Home Page | Friday Program: And Now for the Rest of the Story | BBRC Head to Doo-val! | "Adopted" Highway Needs Clean-Up | First New Member Mixer | Friday Potpourri | New Member Inducted: Steve Bender | Post Op Report From John Mix | Web Fun


Captain Jeff Newell, son of former BBRC member Dennis Newell, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. Jeff will tell his first-hand story Friday morning, meeting at 7:00 pm, at the Glendale Country Club.


John Mix is at home now reccovering from knee replacement surgery. SEE HIS POST OP REPORT HERE.

And Now for the Rest of the Story

x0718Chambers2Steve LinginLawyer, via cable feed from the Queen Charlotte Islands, and Chuck Kimbrough had the pleasure as lawyers of introducing Justice Tom Chambers of the Washington Supreme Court.

Tom has enjoyed a very distinguished career as an attorney, successfully trying many significant cases in the state of Washington, and he has been a prolific writer and commentator on trial practice and other legal matters. Tom is also a devoted member of his community. He and his wife have participated in many service programs and his wife is right now in Uganda ministering to Pigmy children orphaned by HIV. Incidentally, Tom stated that his wife had told him she was pleased he was speaking at Rotary, as the International Rotary Movement is one of the few organizations making a difference in dealing with the HIV crises in Uganda.

This scribe, another attorney (but not a Steve), was most interested in Justice Chambers’ remarks, since it was one of the rare occasions when a sitting justice has actually commented on specific cases that were decided by the Washington Supreme Court. Judges speak often, but usually on general legal matters and very seldom feel comfortable on speaking about specific cases.

Tom’s reason for speaking on some of the high-profile cases decided by the Washington Supreme Court in the last year was to make clear what the Supreme Court actually ruled, and ruled on rather than the way such decisions were reported in the media.

As general background, Tom observed that the present of the Supreme Court is comprised of five men and four women, but two years ago there were five women and four men, making the Washington Supreme Court the first in the nation to have a female majority on the Court. Justices of the Washington Supreme Court are elected for six-year terms. Tom observed that the Supreme Court is a court of discretion, and that although over 2,000 petitions are filed annually seeking review in the Supreme Court, only approximately 150 are accepted. Those accepted are typically ones where the issue is one of broad public interest as opposed to the peculiarly private interests which most lawsuits address.

Also, by way of background, Tom observed that the court system in the United States scheme of government is to provide a check and balance on the power of the legislature and the executive branches of the government. He said that the founders had correctly observed that within the legislature and the executive branches of government, majority rule will prevail and the only protection for the minority or the individual in the judicial branch of government.

With that background, Tom spoke of the two cases filed by the Republicans and Democrats in the Washington Gubernatorial election last fall. In both cases, one brought by the Democrats and one brought by the Republicans, the petitioners sought an order from the court system instructing King County election officials on how to deal with the issue of canvassing (which is looking at the ballots to make sure that they are properly signed) and balloting and counting of votes.

x0718Chambers3In neither case did the Court take any action and in both cases the decision was unanimous. The Court refused to interfere in a process that should be controlled by the executive branch of government.

Tom observed, however, that both cases were widely reported in the media as having been ones where the Court actually ruled in favor of one party or the other, when in fact, the Court simply refused to get involved in peculiarly executive branch functions.

Another case in which the Supreme Court was widely misinterpreted was one involving “peeping tom” statute involving a defendant who was taking photographs up women’s skirts and then publishing them on the Internet. Tom observed that the Court, again unanimously, determined that the particular statute was overbroad, essentially making it unlawful to look at someone with bad thoughts in mind, and the Court actually suggested how the Legislature could, in fact, fix the statute to make it cover the zone of privacy so that it would not be overbroad. The Legislature did fix the statute. However, as Tom pointed out, Jay Leno had reported the opinion as one in which Bobbe Bridge and eight other old men on the Washington Supreme Court said it was okay to look up women’s skirts. Leno of course had it wrong on many levels, missing the point of the opinion and incorrectly reporting that the Washington Supreme Court was all male, when in fact it was almost evenly split, and Bobbe is not a male, but a female.

Another case on which Tom spoke was one involving the change in the Washington Primary system. He noted that Federal Courts had determined that the open primary of Washington was unconstitutional in that it impinged on the constitutional right of the Republican and Democratic parties to associate since it would be possible for someone to run as a Democrat or Republican without the approval or support of the parties, and become a candidate despite the fact that the parties did not endorse them.

The Legislature had presented Governor Locke with two plans, one the Louisiana Plan where the top two vote getters would appear on the ballot and one called the Montana Plan where voters did not need to declare their political party affiliation, but could not pick and choose, and had to vote one party way or the other. The Governor was presented with both options and vetoed the Louisiana Plan. That was challenged, but the only issue before the Court was whether the Governor had the power to veto the plan since the Washington Constitution gives the Governor extremely broad veto power, including line item veto power, the unanimous Court affirmed the Governor’s right to veto. Again, this case was report in a way that suggested that the Supreme Court had decided in favor of one plan or another when, in fact, it hadn’t.

The final case was one in which the Court addressed the fact that Washington had abolished the inheritance tax some years ago, but was still collecting inheritance taxes. The unanimous Court determined that it did not have the power to do that since the Legislature had abolished the inheritance tax. This particular ruling was bemoaned by the Legislature, claiming that the Supreme Court was causing a shortfall of many millions of dollars that would not be available from the inheritance tax. In fact, the Court simply determined that the Legislature had abolished the tax and therefore, could not collect it. DUH!

As evidenced by the many questions after the presentation, Justice Chambers lived up to his reputation as an engaging and entertaining speaker, and presented a fine program.





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