Court to hear arguments about Wash. AG's authority

Jessica M. Karmasek Nov. 18, 2010, 9:20am


OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) -- The Washington State Supreme Court will hear arguments Thursday on two lawsuits that question the scope of the state attorney general's authority.

At issue, according to The Associated Press, is Attorney General Rob McKenna's power to independently sue or refuse to sue.

McKenna, who is rumored to be a GOP candidate for governor in 2012, angered state Democrats by joining the multi-state challenge to President Barack Obama's federal health care law.

In March, McKenna joined more than a dozen other attorneys general, led by outgoing Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, in filing the lawsuit.

The group of states has argued that requiring individuals to purchase health insurance or face a $695 yearly penalty is unconstitutional.

According to the AP, one of the cases being heard by the state's high court on Thursday is based on that action. It led Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes to sue McKenna to have him withdraw the suit. Holmes argues McKenna "overstepped" his authority in joining the action.

At issue in the case is how much discretion the state attorney general, a statewide elected official, has in pursuing lawsuits without the blessing of other state officials, the AP said.

McKenna has insisted politics didn't play a part in his decision to join the health care suit.

The attorney general said in a statement this week that he "has the authority and responsibility to challenge the constitutionality of a federal law that threatens the constitutional rights of the state and its citizens."

The other case raised by the state's public lands commissioner deals with whether McKenna can refuse to continue suing when a state agency wants him to.

Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark sued this summer after McKenna refused to appeal a right-of-way case in Okanogan County.

The county Public Utility District won a lower court case allowing it to run power lines across some state trust land that Goldmark manages.

Goldmark, a Democrat, argues that state law requires the attorney general to defend him upon request. But McKenna has said he can decide which cases to appeal on his own.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

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