CAPR contests lawsuit decision

The Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights has appealed the dismissal of its Open Public Meetings Act lawsuit against San Juan County to the state Court of Appeals in Seattle.

CAPR, a statewide property rights organization with a chapter in San Juan County, had sought to invalidate the Critical Areas Ordinances because three of six county council members had attended a number of meetings with county employees and others to discuss various questions related to the CAO update. The original case also named three county council members as individual defendants; they were dismissed from the case before the final order.

The notice of appeal brings the case back to life after Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock in May issued a summary judgement order dismissing the lawsuit before trial. That decision said the state open public meetings act applies to subcommittees “only if a majority or quorum of the governing body is present” - a fact that was not refuted by CAPR, though CAPR disagreed with the legal conclusion.

Hancock was named to hear the case after CAPR filed a motion saying that San Juan County Superior Court Judge Donald Eaton should recuse himself as an elected official of the county, which he did.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals will hear the appeal, but paperwork and procedural filings will occupy five or six months before oral arguments are scheduled, according to Dennis Reynolds of Bainbridge Island, the land use attorney representing CAPR.

San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord thinks Hancock’s decision is both procedurally and substantively sound, and he’s uncertain what relief could be accorded CAPR at this stage because only the Growth Management Hearings Board, which is presently considering the CAO appeals, has authority to invalidate or change the ordinances.

CAPR attorney Reynolds, however, says that the appeals court has a variety of options available to it, including returning the case to Judge Hancock for further proceedings or deciding the case itself.

Both attorneys agree that the case probably won’t be decided until sometime in 2014, although the appeals court can decide the case on the basis of pleading and briefs filed by the parties.


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