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court disallows challenge to signature-gathering process
in mayoral recall

Washington State
court disallows challenge to signature-gathering process
in mayoral recall

The Washington State supreme court has published its reasons for allowing signatures to be collected on petitions to recall Spokane mayor James West. Meanwhile, a bipartisan political action committee has formed and announced Wednesday it would begin airing pro-recall television ads. And West asked voters for a second chance during an appearance on a Spokane radio station. West faces a special recall election December 6 after recall supporters collected more than 17,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot. Beginning in May, The Spokesman-Review published a series of articles alleging that West used a city-owned computer to troll a gay Internet chat room for dates with young men, offering one a City Hall internship in exchange for sex. Recall organizer Shannon Sullivan began collecting signatures after the state supreme court issued an order August 24 that her recall charge was legally and factually sufficient. The recall ballot contends that West committed misfeasance in office by offering an internship to a young man he met in a gay chat room, in an effort to pursue a sexual relationship. Sullivan withdrew from the recall effort shortly after submitting her petitions last month, leaving a void in leadership in the political campaign to oust West from office. The Spokesman-Review reported that David Bray, a real estate agent and community activist who once ran unsuccessfully for a city council seat, will chair the Committee to Recall Mayor Jim West. The committee includes Shaun Cross, a Spokane lawyer who ran unsuccessfully in last year's Republican primary for the fifth district seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Tom Keefe, a former Democratic county chairman and a fifth district congressional candidate in the 2000 election against then-incumbent representative George Nethercutt. State Public Disclosure Commission documents show West owes $85,000 to lawyers, mainly to pay for his recall defense. Appearing Wednesday on KXLY radio, West said he's raised about $10,000 so far for his campaign to defeat the recall. He also said Spokane is making progress under his leadership for the first time in years and asked for forgiveness from Spokane voters. "I'd hope that people will give me a second chance," he told the radio audience. A caller asked West to "explain your lack of judgment." The mayor said he couldn't, adding, "I wish it hadn't happened." West's lawyers argued unsuccessfully before the supreme court, which quickly issued its order August 24 that the recall could proceed. Sullivan, an unemployed single mother with no legal training, argued her own cause before the justices. On September 30 Chelan County judge T.W. Small tossed out a petition filed by Spokane lawyer and former city councilman Steve Eugster, who had sought to stop the signature validation process. Eugster argued that the signatures were collected illegally because they were gathered before the supreme court had issued its written reasons for allowing the recall campaign to proceed. The opinion issued Wednesday by Justice Tom Chambers, with seven other justices concurring, held that a lower court judge acted within his authority when he corrected the ballot synopsis Sullivan submitted and allowed the recall to proceed. "First, we note that the role of courts in the recall process is highly limited and it is not for us to decide whether the alleged facts are true or not," Chambers wrote. "It is the voters, not the courts, who will ultimately act as the fact finders." Justice Richard B. Sanders dissented, saying Sullivan's original ballot language had been improperly changed by the trial court judge. "In this state, and under our laws and constitution, public office holders have the right to conduct their private affairs in a lawful manner without fear of recall," Sanders wrote. Sanders accused the court of misconstruing recall election laws, ignoring precedent and embellishing evidence offered by Sullivan. West's lawyers agreed with Sanders, saying the court did not find that West had engaged in any improper conduct. In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, lawyers Bill Etter, Carl Oreskovich, and Susan W. Troppmann said Sanders correctly concluded that nothing in the recall petition "links Mayor West's private affairs with the discharge of his duties." Chambers wrote that technical violations of recall statutes "are not fatal, so long as the charges, read as a whole, give the elected official enough information to respond to the charges and the voters enough information to evaluate them." (AP)

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