Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association (WRA) have filed a complaint (pdf) in King County Superior Court asking for declaratory and injunctive relief that would keep the Good Jobs Initiative off the City of SeaTac's November ballot. If approved by voters, the initiative would raise the minimum wage for certain Sea-Tac Airport workers to $15 an hour.
Alaska and the WRA sure do appear to fear the will of the people.
It is rare for the courts to engage in pre-ballot review, the presumption being that the legal issues do not become "ripe" unless and until the initiative is approved by voters. The general exception are "scope" challenges—that is, initiatives that are ruled to be outside the scope of the initiative powers. For example, my own Initiative 831—which sought to officially proclaim Tim Eyman a "horse's ass"—was ruled outside the scope of the state initiative powers because it did not amend the RCW, and was thus ruled not legislative in nature (I believe I would have won on appeal). And Eyman's own anti-red light camera initiatives have been ruled outside the scope of local initiative powers because the legislature granted that authority directly to local elected bodies, and not to the people.
An initiative can be clearly unconstitutional, but still within scope, and vice versa. But the courts don't engage in pre-ballot constitutional review. It can be a subtle distinction. But it's a distinction that appears to be lost on Alaska/WRA attorney Harry Korrell, whose rambling 32 page complaint at times appears to be more a political polemic than a cogent legal argument.
First Korrell asks the court to prohibit the city clerk from moving further with the initiative, both alleging that King County Elections improperly certified the number of valid signatures, and that the city clerk improperly issued a Certificate of Sufficiency without adequately reviewing the legality of the title, text, and content of the ordinance. Scope issues aside, it's a weak argument for reasons with which Korrell should be intimately familiar from his turn as a lead attorney in Dino Rossi's challenge of Washington's 2004 gubernatorial election. Ruling from the bench, Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges reminded litigants that "Our Supreme Court has observed that election officers are presumed to have complied with the duties required of them in an honest and careful manner."
"Every presumption is in favor of the faithful performance of official duty," the court wrote in Quigley v. Phelps. That's a lot of presumption to overcome, and this complaint doesn't do it.
In the second part of Korrell's complaint, he argues that the initiative is outside the scope of SeaTac's initiative powers because it violates various state and federal laws, as well as the state constitution. Maybe. Maybe not. But that does not a scope challenge make. The complaint does allege that the ordinance involves "administrative matters," which would indeed be outside the scope of a local initiative. But Korrell provides little to back this assertion up.
I'm not sure Korrell is a very good lawyer.
Not that it matters. Like I said, courts are very reluctant to engage in pre-ballot review. I think the real news here is the desperation that this complaint reveals. This is a complaint written more to the standards of the court of public opinion than a court of law. Consider this the opening volley in what is sure to be the most expensive political campaign the City of SeaTac has ever seen.