Everett turns down help with monument fight

By David Olson
Everett Herald Writer

EVERETT, WA - 6/11/04 - City officials have turned down an offer by a conservative Virginia group founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson to pay for Everett's legal defense of its Ten Commandments monument.

The city has paid a Seattle law firm $70,000 to defend it against a lawsuit alleging that the monument outside City Council chambers violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of state endorsement of religion. The city expects to spend at least $30,000 more.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnick is scheduled to first hear arguments in the case Oct. 4 in Seattle, although lawyers on both sides say a decision could come before then.

The American Center for Law and Justice, which has represented more than a dozen cities in Ten Commandments cases, approached Everett officials several months ago, said Gene Kapp, spokesman for the group.

The organization was "surprised" by the city's decision to decline its proposal, he said. The offer remains open, he added.

Mayor Ray Stephanson said contracting with the group, which Robertson founded in 1990, could have undermined Everett's legal argument that the monument represents universal values and legal principles, not a particular religion.

"We studied the background of the American Center for Law and Justice and felt it would put our defense in an entirely different light," the mayor said.

The center's mission statement says it is "committed to the defense of Judeo-Christian values."

The city had already hired Seattle law firm Preston Gates Ellis LLP when it received the center's offer, Stephanson said.

If either side appeals Lasnick's decision, the case would probably go to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. An appeal would cost the city another $50,000, City Attorney Jim Iles said.

If the city loses the suit, it would likely have to pay the legal expenses for the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents Jesse Card, the Everett man who filed the suit. Those expenses will probably be roughly equivalent to the city's, lawyers for the group said, meaning Everett could have to pay Americans United $150,000 if it loses the case.

Iles said the Virginia group did not offer to pay Americans United's legal costs.

Courts across the country have disagreed on whether Ten Commandments monuments in front of government buildings violate the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on the matter.

The Everett Eagles donated the granite slab to the city in 1959.

Reporter David Olson: 425-339-3452 or dolson@heraldnet.com.



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