Round Three began on Tuesday for Shannon Sullivan, the plucky citizen activist behind an effort to recall Spokane Mayor Jim West. After fighting to get her petition through the county prosecuting attorney's office, then standing up to a pair of the mayor's lawyers in Superior Court two weeks ago, the single mom is taking her case to the highest court in the state.
West's attorneys announced on Monday that they will appeal the Superior Court decision, which nixed two of Sullivan's allegations but gave the green light to one -- that the mayor improperly used his office to "solicit internships for young men for his own personal uses." That takes the case to the state Supreme Court.
West denies the charge, and he and his attorneys have taken great exception to a recent Spokesman-Review story in which an e-mail that the newspaper says shows West was offering internships was edited by the newspaper. The full e-mail exchange, his attorneys argued in a recent press release, only shows West told the Review's forensic investigator how to apply.
But the timing of the mayor's decision to appeal leaves the recall up in the air. West and his attorneys made the announcement on the 14th day of the 30 days they had to file their appeal (some have claimed that they had only 15 days, as is the timeline under election law; in this case, Supreme Court procedure takes precedence). But the last oral arguments the justices will hear in this session are scheduled for today, June 30. Their summer recess begins this weekend.
What that means is that there's a good chance that the court won't hear the recall case until it's back in session in September. If it passes then, Sullivan and the Citizens for Integrity in Government (her startup organization) would have 180 days to gather the 12,600 signatures necessary to put the recall on the ballot. But even if they gather all those signatures in one day, it would be almost impossible to get the recall on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election. Instead, it would likely require a special election, set between 45 and 60 days after all the signatures are in and verified Meaning that a recall election could be pushed well into 2006, if it happens at all.
Some have already speculated that the mayor strategically timed his announcement to appeal so as to make it impossible for the case to be heard before summer recess and therefore delay a potential vote. West's attorneys deny this. And besides, state Supreme Court spokeswoman Wendy Ferrell confirms, even if the mayor had filed his appeal on June 13, the day of the Superior Court decision, the case probably wouldn't have made it to court in time anyway. By mid-June, oral arguments for the Supreme Court were almost completely booked through the end of the month.
There is a flicker of hope, however, for Sullivan and other Spokanites who want to see the mayor booted out of office. On Monday, Sullivan's organization said they intend to seek an emergency hearing with the Supreme Court this summer. The odds that the court will take it are iffy, but Ferrell says the justices handled two elections cases outside the normal time frame twice in the last year -- so it's not out of the question.
It is, however, a lot of paperwork. Ferrell says the process for determining whether a request for a special hearing is worth the court's time is somewhat unclear. The court will look at the merits of the request, determine how much briefing and time it will require and make a decision. But there doesn't seem to be a timeline for how quickly that might happen. Election issues are generally put on a fast track, but those rules don't necessarily apply during summer session.
As of press time, the spokeswoman for the Supreme Court said they had not yet received West's petition to appeal. According to an editorial West wrote earlier this week, his main objection is in how the ballot measure would be worded. So whether he's seeking to block the vote altogether or merely tweak the wording remains to be seen.
"My lawyers are confident," West wrote, "that after an appeal to the Supreme Court, we will have a more accurate ballot statement to put before the voters for a fair recall election."
When that might happen, however, is still not clear.