The first of two last-minute court hearings today to determine whether SeaTac Proposition 1 will appear on the November ballot, ended without King County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Prochnau issuing a ruling from bench. She promised, however, to issue a summary ruling before the end of the day, the deadline King County Elections (KCE) has given for adding the measure to the fall ballot.
Prop 1, the "Good Jobs Initiative" that would guarantee certain SeaTac Airport and related workers a $15 minimum wage plus benefits, has been caught in a legal limbo thanks to the legal machinations of Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association, not mention some questionable rulings from King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas. Nobody in court today disputed KCE's determination that the petitions contain signatures from 1,780 registered SeaTac voters, a comfortable margin above the 1,536 signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot. If the decision was simply one of voter intent (which legally, it should be in Washington State) the plaintiff's attorney, Knoll Lowney, would have clearly won the day. Contrary to standard elections procedures, a special SeaTac review board struck an additional 201 signatures for missing things like a complete address or complete date. Judge Darvas later struck an additional 61 signatures—the original signatures from voters who mistakenly signed the petitions more than once.
Established procedures and legal precedent clearly err on the side of determining voter intent rather than slavishly adhering to the statue, so this should really be a no-brainer in favor of the plaintiffs. Furthermore, there is established precedent that the statutes defining the required elements of an initiative petition do not actually require that all these elements be properly filled in by the signers. But Harry Korrell, the attorney representing Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association, strenuously argued that Judge Prochnau does not have the authority to rule on the issues before her, contending that they had already been considered and dismissed by Judge Darvas.
It's yet another slimy legal technicality that Korrell (the former lead attorney in Dino Rossi's futile gubernatorial election contest) is arguing in defense of his clients' well-funded effort to deny SeaTac voters their constitutional rights, but it may work. While this suit was brought by different parties than the suit before Judge Darvas (voters who signed the initiative, rather than initiative sponsors), and the issues raised are somewhat different, courts often don't make that distinction. You can't just shop your case to a different judge if you don't like the results you got from the first one—that's what the appeals process is for. So while I came away from todays arguments confident that Judge Prochnau would side with the plaintiffs if she believes she has the authority to rule on the matter before her, I'm not convinced she'll determine that she has that authority.
We'll know later this afternoon.
In the meanwhile, I'm off to see a three-judge state appellate panel consider the initiative sponsors' appeal of Judge Darvas's rulings. These arguments will likely be much more narrow, possibly focusing exclusively on the rejection of the 61 duplicate signatures. State law does say that these original signatures should be stricken. But other courts have repeatedly determined that this statute is unconstitutional.
"In any other city in the state, we know that Prop 1 would be on the ballot," Lowney told the judge, "because King County followed the procedures that are in use throughout the rest of the case."
Whether the appeals court panel finds that argument persuasive remains to be seen.