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Challenge against charter changes lands in SJ County court
By Steve Wehrly/Journal reporter
The case seeking to invalidate the series of charter amendments approved by the voters in November has been transferred from Skagit County Superior Court to the Superior Court of San Juan County.
The case, titled Michael Carlson, Jerrold R. Gonce and Jeffrey Bossler v. San Juan County and the State of Washington, alleges seven causes of action, and asks that the charter amendments be declared unconstitutional and that an injunction be entered terminating the current election for the three-person county council provided for in the charter amendments.
Judge John Meyer in Skagit County signed two orders, the first granting San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord's motion for a "change of venue" and the second requiring that the six current county council members and the candidates for the three-person council be added to the case as "necessary parties."
In his order transferring the case to San Juan County, Meyer cited as one of his reasons that "satisfactory proof has been submitted that the convenience of witnesses or the ends of justice will be served by the change of venue."
Meyer has informed San Juan County Superior Court Judge Don Eaton of his decision and has indicated to the attorneys that he is amenable to continuing to preside over the case. Judge Eaton has informed San Juan Superior Court Administrator Jane Hutchinson that he would recuse himself from consideration of the case.
Stephanie Johnson O'Day, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, said she has no objection to Meyer continuing on the case "in the interests of expediency and judicial economy." O'Day pointed out that the case file is over 700 pages, that the issues are important and complex, and that Meyer has indicated that he is prepared to hear arguments in San Juan County on Feb. 20 and decide the case before the April 23 date set for the special election of the new county council.
Because San Juan County has only one Superior Court judge, state law and Washington Supreme Court rules provide that the presiding judge of Island County, now Alan Hancock, should name the successor judge. Judge Hancock could name a different judge to preside over the case. He is expected to name the successor judge for the case quickly.
Attorneys for both the plaintiffs (O'Day) and San Juan County (Gaylord) have filed cross-motions for summary judgment and have argued that a full-blown trial with testimony and witnesses should not be necessary.
A second case on substantially the same issues, Charles Bodenstab v. State of Washington, was filed in United State District Court in Seattle, but was voluntarily dismissed by stipulation of the parties on Jan. 23, 2013.