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Court of Appeals clarifies state law awarding wrongfully convicted people compensation; plus, what is Just Want Privacy hiding?

click to enlarge How much should the wrongfully convicted get paid for their time?
  • How much should the wrongfully convicted get paid for their time?

WHAT'S A YEAR IN PRISON WORTH?

In a well-known wrongful conviction case that originated in Spokane Valley, the Washington State Court of Appeals has refined what is required of WRONGFULLY CONVICTED individuals to prove in order to get paid under state law. Others have been awarded money after settlements, but this is the first case to be tried under Washington's wrongful conviction compensation statute, according to Mack Mayo, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. The law went into effect in 2013.

In 2009, a jury convicted Robert Larson, Tyler Gassman and Paul Statler of a drug robbery and assault. The state's star witness, and most compelling evidence against the three men, was a jailhouse snitch who in exchange for his testimony received an exceptionally low sentence of 19 months in a juvenile facility. Larson, Gassman and Statler were sentenced to decades in prison.

In 2012, a Spokane Superior Court judge overturned the convictions after new evidence came to light and ordered that the men be released. Now Larson, Gassman and Statler are suing the state for the more than four years they spent in prison.

A trial court initially threw out the three men's petition, agreeing with the state's argument that the facts of their case didn't meet the requirement to receive compensation for the errant convictions. But last week, the state Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's findings, and in doing so refined how the statute should be interpreted. The case was sent back to the lower court for reconsideration in light of the Appeals Court's ruling.

Under the statute, the men are entitled to up to $50,000 per year they spent in prison, in addition to a refund on any restitution payments and court costs, plus reentry counseling and assistance getting a job.

"This is the first [wrongful conviction compensation] case with an appellate court giving a lot of substance to the statute," Mayo says. "I think it will go a long way toward helping future claimants seeking remedies under the statute." (MITCH RYALS)

JUST WANT DISCLOSURE

Just Want Privacy, a group spearheading a Washington ballot initiative that would repeal certain PROTECTIONS FOR TRANSGENDER INDIVIDUALS, isn't properly reporting campaign donations and is possibly concealing support it has received from a controversial right-wing organization, according to a complaint filed with the state's election watchdog by an LGBTQ advocacy organization.

Equal Rights Washington filed the complaint with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission last week. According to the complaint, Just Want Privacy mentioned on its Facebook page that it received support from the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think tank and lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C., but failed to report it as an in-kind or financial donation on its publicly available disclosure forms.

The Family Research Council has been labeled as an extremist anti-LGBT organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups. Monisha Harrell, chair of Equal Rights Washington's board, says the public should know if a national group is aiding an effort to undo the state's anti-discrimination laws.

"They spend the majority of their resources trying to keep others from having equal rights and take them away from people who received them recently," Harrell says of the Family Research Council.

The complaint also alleges that Just Want Privacy violated state law by waiting a month to report nearly $20,000 in campaign contributions, and not reporting payments made to campaign staff. Harrell says it's possible that an outside group is funding the payroll for Just Want Privacy, and that the public is entitled to know the sources of the campaign's money.

Just Want Privacy did not respond to a request for comment by press time. July 8 is the deadline to turn in 246,372 valid signatures to qualify an initiative for the November ballot. According to the most recent PDC filings, Just Want Privacy has raised $181,202 in contributions, and has spent nearly $57,000. (JAKE THOMAS)

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