Today the Washington State Supreme Court released their full opinion on their unanimous ruling* that Mayor Jenny Durkan did not act with misfeasance, malfeasance, or violate her oath of office when she allowed the Seattle Police Department to use tear gas and other weapons during the summer's protests against police brutality and racism, as recall petitioners alleged.
The petitioners believed Durkan should have fired SPD Chief Carmen Best, taken control of the police department, and issued a firm ban on tear gas and pepper spray.
In her appeal, Durkan's camp argued that she did act to limit SPD's actions, that she couldn't have banned tear gas and pepper spray because that would have violated the consent decree, and that controlling SPD was Best's job.
In siding with Durkan, the Court ruled that its "precedent does not allow Mayor Durkan to be held accountable through a recall election on the charges presented." But will this precedent protect other elected officials against recall efforts?
Leah Solomon, the treasurer of the Fire the Mayor campaign, said the recall campaign understood why the court upheld that precedent but lamented "its effect."
"This incredibly high legal bar suppresses the people's right to vote when bodily rights are violated and health is put at risk," Solomon wrote in an email.
The recall campaign was disappointed that the Court blocked any ability for the recall to go to a vote. "Washington state laws protect elected officials to an unnecessary degree," Solomon said.
Durkan's day in court is done, but now that she's not running for re-election, she'll be out of office after 2021 anyway.
In a bit of a twist, the Mayor is now asking the Seattle City Council to allow the city to foot her $240,000 legal bill. Durkan previously claimed she would cover the fees herself, a fact critics used against Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who already received council approval for the city to cover her legal fees in the recall effort against her. Citing state law and legal precedent, the council authorized the city to pay Sawant's dues. The same will likely happen with Durkan.
Sawant may not enjoy the same outcome as Durkan in the ongoing recall case against her, however.
When the Washington Supreme Court hears Sawant's appeal on Jan. 7, Solomon suspects the council member's legal team will inevitably try to use Durkan's failed recall in its defense, but she believes the Court likely will not use the same precedent in its decision.
Sawant's recall centers on "the direct actions of an elected official, and new COVID-related precedent," Solomon said. One charge alleges Sawant violated COVID-19 orders when she brought a group of protesters inside Seattle City Hall.
The Court recently approved a recall against Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney for flouting Gov. Jay Inslee's COVID-19 restrictions. That case sets a precedent that "influences" Sawant's case the most, Solomon said. Sawant also faces three other charges in the recall.
Sawant's defense maintains the recall is an attempt by the council member's critics to redo the 2019 election Sawant won handily. If the Court rules against Sawant's appeal, the recall campaign will need to collect just over 10,000 signatures to place the recall on the ballot.
*Eds note: This post originally claimed the Washington Supreme Court had announced its ruling on this case on Thursday, but it had only released its full opinion on the case. The Court announced its ruling on Oct 8, as The Stranger mentioned that day in Slog PM.