PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County residents can experience how the state Supreme Court works when justices bring three cases to the Jefferson County Courthouse on Tuesday.
“This is part of their regional outreach program that takes the court to the people,” County Clerk Ruth Gordon said. “Most people will not travel to Olympia to the ‘Temple of Justice’ to see the highest court in our state’s judicial system in action. They take select cases ‘on the road’ three times a year.
“Each of these cases are well chosen. They try to find local cases, but they didn’t find any for us. We are a small court. All of these are from Seattle and are of general interest.”
Chief Justice Mary E. Fairhurst and Associate Justices Charles Johnson, Barbara Madsen, Susan Owens, Debra Stephens, Charles Wiggins, Steven Gonzalez, Sheryl Gordon McCloud, and Mary Yu will hear arguments on Tuesday at the courthouse at 1820 Jefferson St. with final decisions expected to be announced next year.
In addition to the work in court, the justices will dive deep into the community, holding school assemblies and meeting the public for question-and-answer sessions.
On Monday, the justices will take turns visiting the county’s three high schools — Chimacum and Quilcene at 10 a.m. and Port Townsend High after the last period of the day at 2:50 p.m.
A luncheon hosted by Jefferson Healthcare hospital is planned so justices can meet local dignitaries in the community.
Continuing legal education for regional attorneys will be offered by Justices McCloud and Stephens will be at City Council chambers at 540 Water St., in the afternoon.
The class will focus on effective advocacy with tips for litigators including how to present a case successfully at the court of appeals.
Prior to the Port Townsend City Council special business meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, a question-and-answer forum with the justices will be open to the public from 3 p.m to 4:45 p.m.
In the evening, an invitation only-event is planned at the Port Townsend Vineyards.
On Tuesday morning, the first case — No. 96313-4, State of Washington v. Frank A. Wallmuller — will begin at 9 a.m. Gordon said the case is about “the instructions a sex offender receives and if it is sufficiently clear about where they can and cannot go.” The question is whether it is unconstitutionally vague.
The second case will start at 10:15 a.m. No 96262-6, Service Employees International Union Local 925 v. Freedom Foundation involves the public records act and if exchanges between university employees and a private labor union concerning unionization efforts are public records and subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act.
“This matter is to balance the good and the harm that is the potential in the release of this type of information,” Gordon said. “They are making case law, but they are answering this question within this case.”
After those two cases are argued, the justices will answer questions from the audience about what just happened.
“This is an awesome learning opportunity for people who want to invest some time and listen to these arguments,” Gordon said. “People will be able to ask the bench,’why did you ask this question?’”
Gordon doubts all Supreme Courts do this, but said, “this is a terrific policy on the part of our Supreme Court to try to make the judicial system more transparent to the people that it serves.”
The third case begins at 1:30 p.m. with questions and answers following.
No. 96660-5 Mark Elster and Sarah Pynchon v City of Seattle is a First Amendment case that asks if the city of Seattle levies a property tax to fund vouchers that residents can use to support political candidates, must they pay into a fund that pays into a campaign so candidates can use that fund to pay for their campaign costs.
“The intention is to support clean campaigns so people can run for office and don’t have to take money from special interests,” Gordon said. “Some folks are challenging that tax saying it’s unconstitutional.
“This case is for those who are interested in taxation and the electoral process.”
Gordon said there is a time allotment of 20-minutes per side and attorneys get to choose how many of those are spent in argument, rebuttal or closing.
“You aren’t talking for those 20 minutes,” she explained. “The court interrupts a lot about a citation or a question about how a case law applies to the facts of your case.
“It’s a debate with the judges more than with the other side because they can’t interrupt. Only the bench can interrupt you. So they will be asking questions and trying to settle in their minds what you really mean to say.
Gordon said the attorneys will try to present a cogent argument, but try to tie up loose ends and address any challenges that the bench brings to them.
“The appellate counsel will go first, then the respondent counsel will make their argument. It’s the bailiff Guy Rosser’s responsibility to keep time so he’ll let the court know when the 60 minutes are up for the case.”
Two Port Townsend High School graduates are involved with the cases. Attorney Jacob Fox Metzer helped write the brief on the second case, and Anna Eliza Brady is a law clerk for Justice Owens.
Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].