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Legislation by litigation 

by Dan Richardson

The city-county growth boundary dispute isn't just between the governments but between elected leaders. Perhaps the

most obvious breach is on the city side, where Steve Eugster, a city councilman, filed suit against the City of Spokane in response to Mayor John Powers' decision cutting off new sewer and water hookups beyond city limits. It's not his first time stepping into a courthouse over politics.

Eugster has served or filed half a dozen suits against the city in the last two years while sitting as a council member, and others before that. The recent ones alone have cost the city upwards of $20,000 plus staff time, says City Attorney Mike Connelly.

There's little limitation on government via lawsuit. State and federal law has a number of allowances for one entity within the government to sue another to enforce its will or policy, explains Connelly. It is similar to an employee suing his employer, he says. Eugster could not be reached for comment.

If someone has filed numerous suits that have been found to be frivolous, a judge can issue an order that he or she has to clear future legal actions with the court, says Mike Casey, corporate counsel for Gonzaga University, and an instructor at its law school. Just filing numerous suits is no basis for such an injunction, though.

"To file a lawsuit and lose is no sin. It can mean you didn't do your homework, that the jury didn't like you," says Casey. In Eugster's case, an argument could be made that he's having to use the lawsuits to get the attention of City Hall -- even if he does sit on the council which makes city policy.

Some fellow council members have said Eugster's suits are undemocratic. Members Rob Higgins, Dean Lynch and Phyllis Holmes have even raised the possibility of a city ordinance to restrict sitting council members from suing the city they run.

That would be an extreme remedy, though, says Casey. "Closing the courthouse to a citizen is a huge deal."
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