Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Center for Justice will challenge immigration initiative in court

Posted By on Wed, Jul 15, 2015 at 12:56 PM

The Center for Justice intends to challenge the legality of an initiative petition that, if passed, would overturn a city policy that bars police and other employees from contacting individuals solely to ascertain their immigration status.

Rick Eichstaedt, the group’s executive director, tells the Inlander that supporters of the petition illegally placed prejudicial text on the petitions used to collect signatures.

The language added to the petition is a “legislative history” that lists members of Spokane City Council who voted for “Spokane to become a sanctuary for illegal aliens.” The petition goes on to list Councilmen Mike Allen and Mike Fagan as the members of the council “who voted to prevent Spokane from becoming a sanctuary for illegal aliens, and to defend the right of taxpayers, police and other city employees to refuse finance and harbor lawless activity.”

Eichstaedt says that past legal challenges to initiatives have been based on their substance, citing attempts from business and government entities to prevent Envision Spokane from having its sweeping measures placed on the ballot.

click to enlarge Center for Justice will challenge immigration initiative in court
Rick Eichstaedt
“This case is really different because we are saying they didn’t follow the process,” says Eichstaedt, who notes that this a “novel question” for the court to consider.

Under Spokane’s initiative process, city lawyers issue an opinion on the legality of the initiative and then write for it an accompanying ballot title and brief narrative, which cannot be modified.

The lawsuit Eichstaedt is planning on filing later this week in Spokane Superior Court will argue that the added text was “biased and prejudicial” and supporters broke the law by adding it to the petitions outside of the city’s initiative process.

Jackie Murray, the initiative’s sponsor, couldn’t be reached for comment. But Councilman Mike Fagan, who has advised and supported the initiative campaign, says he doubts that Eichstaedt will prevail.

“Shame on the Center for Justice for going after something that we already have a legal opinion on, costing the taxpayers’ money to defend this,” says Fagan.

Fagan says that Mike Piccolo, a city attorney, has already issued an opinion stating that because supporters didn’t modify the ballot title, summary or format, it was acceptable for them to add the language.

For the last 16 years, Fagan has worked as co-director of Voters Want More Choices, a political action committee that has sponsored ballot initiatives intended to lower taxes in Washington. He says that his group has often added language to its petitions that express the urgency of the issue and appealing to volunteers.

“The Center for Justice is reaching,” says Fagan. “This is such a huge national issue.”

On Monday, Spokane City Council voted to send the petitions to the county for validation. If the Center for Justice prevails, the initiative will not appear on the November ballot.

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