Elected judge refuses to order commissioners to place initiative on ballot now
Says he will wait for a ruling from the pro-tem judge

By Sue Forde, Citizen Review Online

 Clallam County, WA – Sept. 14, 2001 – Superior Court Judge George Wood heard the case brought before the court today by Dr. John A. Bennett and Bob Forde, as members of the committee to Repeal the Critical Areas Code, asking for a court order to tell the county commissioner and county auditor to “do their job”.  Their “job” in this case, was follow the command of the county Home Rule Charter and place Initiative 6 – Repeal of the Critical Areas Code – on the ballot for the people to decide.

Before hearing each side in the case, Judge Wood explained why he had recused himself from the other case involving Initiative 6, where Clallam County is suing Bob Forde on behalf of the committee for a Declaratory Judgment.  “We need to clear up something before we begin,” Wood stated.  “We all know that the county filed a declaratory judgment” he stated, continuing that he had reviewed the file and found that four or five individuals were former clients or acquaintances of his.  He continued that he was required to recuse himself and not hear the case as a result.  “It might give the appearance of prejudice,” he said.  “That’s why I recused myself.”

The judge continued that he didn’t feel that there’s a conflict for him handling the case on the Writ of Mandamus; however, he believes the two cases are intertwined and affect one another. 

Deb Kelly was acting prosecuting attorney for the county.  She began by telling the judge that she wanted this case joined to the other one.  “If the court issues an order to place the initiative on the ballot, it might stop the other case,” she argued.  She said she was surprised that this is a separate case, that perhaps pro-tem judge Knebes didn’t think of that when he signed the order for a ruling.  She said that she had only recently learned she would be handling the case, and said she was not knowledgeable about it, and was uncomfortable in handling it

Bennett stated that felt comfortable with Judge Wood hearing the case.  He said “We’re trying to get this on the ballot.  The declaratory judgment is trying to put a stop to the power of the people.”

Forde added that he believes the two cases are completely separate.  “It pre-dated the matter that Knebes had heard – the order that Knebes signed is a simple ‘show cause’, simply asking the commissioners and auditor to appear and show cause for it [the initiative] not to go on the ballot,” he said. 

According to Kelly, Chris Melly, Lauren Erickson and Chris Shea were all out of town at various meetings, and that is why she was arguing the case today.  Melly is the assistant prosecuting attorney for Clallam County; Erickson is the county’s code enforcement attorney, a recent position in conjunction with enforcing violations of the Critical Areas Code, and Shea is the elected county prosecuting attorney.

Judge Wood, looking over the Writ of Mandamus, explained that it “compels the performance of an act”.  To paraphrase your position, he said, “the commissioner have a duty to hold a public hearing and put it on the ballot”. 

Forde told the judge that the time for the hearing had lapsed.  (According to the Home Rule Charter, if no hearing is held, it simply goes directly to the ballot.) Forde explained that the problem facing them was the deadline for placing the initiative on the ballot: September 21st.

Judge Wood reiterated that the “commissioners have a duty to allow it to go on the ballot….you’re asking me to require that it goes on the ballot.”

Kelly stated, “That’s what it boils down to.”  She explained that the county has asked the court for a judgment that the proposed initiative to be beyond the scope of the initiative power of the people.  Would this prevent the intervenors from being heard? she queried.  (Two environmental organizations, Protect the Peninsula’s Future and 1000 Friends of Washington, have joined the county in demanding that the initiative not be placed on the ballot.)

John Bennett read the county code, which he said states the law clearly says that a declaratory judgment cannot be filed until an initiative is “on the ballot”.  He added, “We want to be on the ballot anyway, because we want to hear what the people of the county have to say.”

Forde said the matter will probably go to the state Supreme Court.

Wood commented that the Supreme Court is not beoing to base it’s decision on whether the people voted on it.

Bennett said, “If the Supreme Court rules in our favor, which we think it will, if it’s not on the ballot, the people of this county will have been harmed.”

Forde added, “As a free people, can we put it on the ballot to learn the will of the people.  We’ve followed all the rules.  “It [the declaratory judgment] violates the simple command of the charter….You’re an elected judge; that’s why we wanted you to hear it.

Wood said, “What Knebes will be doing will definitely affect this case.  If Knebes rules in favor of Mr. Forde…what I’m going to do,” will be to rule on the matter after Knebes has his hearing.  The Knebes hearing is at 1:30 on Tuesday.  Let’s set up to come back on Wednesday at 3:30, which would still be before the September 21st deadline.

Kelly commented, “I have every hope that it will be Mr. Melly that will be responding.”

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