Washington Supreme Court says legal services provided by Evergreen Freedom Foundation were reportable

By Gabriel Neves | Jan 17, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) – The Washington Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that pro bono legal services provided by an organization were reportable to the Public Disclosure Commission.

State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Madsen, on the bench of the Washington Supreme Court, issued a 35-page ruling on Jan. 10 that affirmed the state Court of Appeals' decision in the lawsuit filed by the state of Washington against Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF).

The state sued EFF based on a citizen action complaint that alleged that the foundation failed to report the value of legal services that had been provided while campaigning for local ballot initiatives.

"In 2014, Evergreen Freedom Foundation staff created sample municipal ordinances and ballot propositions for citizens to use to advance certain causes to their local city councils or commissions," the ruling states.

In three cities - Sequim, Chelan and Shelton - local residents used these sample ballots to file propositions regarding collective bargaining negotiations.

"The proponents submitted the proposed measures to their local city clerks along with signatures they had gathered in support of the measures," the ruling states. "They asked their respective city councils or commissions either to pass the measures as local ordinances or, if the councils or commissions did not agree, to alternatively place each measure on the local ballot for a vote."

None of the cities passed the initiatives.

EFF attorneys, who are also its employees, sued the cities in attempt to have the measures put on the ballots for elections, with each case being dismissed without appeals.

The foundation did not file any report of expenses with the lawsuits with the Public Disclosure Commission as required by law.

In her ruling, Masden stated the legal expenses were "reportable to the PDC."

Justices Mary Fairhurst, Susan Owens and Charles Wiggins concurred to the judgment. 

Justices Sheryl McCloud, Steven Gonzalez, Debra Stephens and Charles Johnson dissented. An opinion by McCloud said former RCW 42.17A.005(4) is ambiguous as applied to the case and is "unconstutionally vague as applied."

Washington Supreme Courtcase number 95281-7

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