Death penalty case before the Washington Supreme Court, TVW will air live

By | May 4, 2015 | Comments

The Washington Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in the death penalty case of Conner Schierman, who was convicted and sentenced to death for stabbing four people, including two young children, and burning their bodies in a Kirkland house fire.

In 2010, a King County Superior Court jury recommended that Schierman be executed for killing Olga Milkin, 28; her two sons Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3; and her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24.

The victims lived across the street from Schierman in Kirkland. Milkin’s husband was overseas serving with the National Guard in Iraq when his family was killed.

According to court documents, Schierman claims he drank three or four bottles of vodka and went into an alcoholic blackout, then woke up in the house with the bodies. He then went to a mini-mart to buy gasoline, which he used to douse the house and set it on fire.

Attorneys for Schierman are asking the Washington Supreme Court to reverse the death sentence, claiming the trial court violated Schierman’s constitutional rights and the state presented improper evidence.

The state is asking the court to uphold the conviction and sentence. Read full court documents here.

TVW will air the arguments live on Tuesday from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., with breaks for lunch and recess. It will be webcast at this link.

Categories: Courts

State Supreme Court will wait until special session adjourns before deciding on sanctions

By | May 1, 2015 | Comments

The Washington Supreme Court will wait until the conclusion of special special before deciding if the Legislature should face sanctions for failing to come up with a plan to fund public schools.

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in an order this week that the “court’s consideration of contempt sanctions and other remedial measures will continue to be held in abeyance” until the adjournment of special session, which began on April 29 and is scheduled to last 30 days.

Madsen ordered lawmakers to provide the court with an update the day after special session ends.

Legislators adjourned the regular session on April 24 without an operating budget in place. They are currently in negotiations on a budget plan that will fund the state for the next two years and put more money into basic education.

The state Supreme Court found the Legislature in contempt in September for failing to submit a plan detailing how the state will pay for basic education through 2018. It did not impose sanctions at the time — instead giving the Legislature the chance to purge the contempt if lawmakers came up with an education funding plan by the end of the 2015 legislative session.

Categories: Courts

Rep. Susan Fagan to resign on Friday following ethical violation allegations

By | April 30, 2015 | Comments

Rep. Susan Fagan, a Republican lawmaker from Pullman, will resign at the end of the day Friday following allegations of ethical violations that include filing fraudulent expense reports to collect several thousand dollars in taxpayer money.

Fagan delivered her resignation letter to Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday, according to the governor’s office.

Officials are investigating Fagan for five categories of misconduct: Claiming expenses for “fake or nonexistent events,” inflating mileage, listing the wrong location of events to qualify for travel payments, pressuring her aides to change expense reports and using state funds improperly for political campaigns.

“In sum, there are allegations of theft, fraud, and improper use of staff by the member to falsify expense reports in order to receive payments of state taxpayer money from the House to which the member was not otherwise entitled,” according to a letter of complaint to the Legislative Ethics Board written by House Chief Clerk Barbara Baker and released to the media on Wednesday.

Rep. Susan Fagan

Rep. Susan Fagan

Fagan said in a statement it is with a “sad heart” she is resigning her seat in the 9th District, which encompasses several rural districts in Southeast Washington. Fagan called it a “disappointing and painful to end my public career.”

“I should have been more precise with my records, and I did not give my reimbursement reports the respect and attention they deserve. That is my fault. At no point did I try to derive personal gain from expense reimbursements,” said Fagan.

Fagan made the decision to resign and pay the money back following a meeting with House Republican leadership.

“I am very disappointed with Rep. Fagan’s conduct,” said House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen. “Her misuse of state travel and reimbursement funds is a serious breach of public trust.”

Fagan has served in the district since 2010. Officials say the Legislative Ethics Board is continuing its investigation and further action will be determined by the board.

Categories: WA House

Special session begins, House passes recreational marijuana bill

By | April 29, 2015 | Comments

The Washington State Legislature began its 30-day special session at noon on Wednesday, four days after lawmakers adjourned the regular legislative session without passing an operating budget.

The Democrat-controlled House and the Republican majority Senate remain at odds over whether the state needs new revenue as part of the operating budget that funds the state for the next two years and puts additional money into public schools.

Lawmakers are also expected to take up a transportation package and legislation related to school levy reform during the special session.

On Wednesday, the House began special session by passing several bills off the floor. Among them is House Bill 2136, which makes several changes to the state’s legal marijuana market and streamlines taxes.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said the bill “updates and modernizes and reforms” a number of provisions in Initiative 502, the ballot measure that legalized marijuana.

City or county bans on pot stores would be subject to a public vote during the general election under the bill.

Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, urged members to reject the proposal. “There are communities that voted no this when the initiative was before them, and they are still voting no today,” he said. “They do not want this to be part of our society.”

The bill passed 70 to 25. Carlyle said negotiations with the Senate are ongoing.

Auditor Troy Kelley takes leave Monday, designates authority to Jan Jutte

By | April 29, 2015 | Comments

Jan Jutte, the director of operations for the State Auditor’s office, was due to retire on Thursday after a 30-year career at the auditor’s office. Instead, she’ll be taking the reins as the top official at the auditor’s office while Troy Kelley is on an unpaid leave of absence to face federal charges of tax evasion.

“This has been a distraction for us, but the vital work goes on in our office,” said Jutte, who will take over delegation of authority from Kelley at 1 p.m. on Monday.

Kelley released a statement on Wednesday saying he is delegating audit authority, contracting, personnel issues and other official matters to Jutte. He will not receive pay or benefits during his leave.

“During my leave of absence, I will not represent the Washington State Auditor’s Office in any capacity until I can put my legal matters to rest, at which time I intend to resume my duties,” Kelley wrote in the statement. 

Jan Jutte will take over for State Auditor Troy Kelley.

Jan Jutte will take over for State Auditor Troy Kelley.

Jutte said she intends to disable Kelley’s email account while he is on leave, saying it is standard practice for employees on leave.

Kelley was indicted by a federal grand jury on ten counts earlier this month and announced he was taking a leave of absence. He has not responded to calls from Gov. Jay Inslee and others to resign.

Jutte remains confident the auditor’s office can continue to perform its duties, noting that the office has completed 350 audit reports since the auditor’s office was subpoenaed on March 6.

“We have decades of policies that have been put in place, we follow national standards, we have quality assurance,” she said. “All of that stuff is routine and happens without the auditor himself interacting with that process.”

Kelley informed Jutte by phone on Monday that he was selecting her to take over authority. The last time she said she saw him in person was at a DuPont restaurant on April 23 to discuss office matters.

Jutte said she had planned to retire this week, but decided three months ago to stay on for an additional year and half to finish projects. “I love this office, I really do,” she said. “It’s a great office that does great work.”

She said she would consider an appointment if Kelley resigns, but would not run for elected office.

TVW taped the 30-minute press conference with Jutte — watch it online here.

Categories: Auditor
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Gun notification bill known as ‘Sheena Henderson Act’ signed into law by Gov. Inslee

By | April 28, 2015 | Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Sheena Henderson Act into law Tuesday, setting up a notification system for families when police return a confiscated gun back to its owner.

Sheena Henderson’s father, Gary Kennison, said Tuesday the bill was not about taking away gun rights. “It’s giving family members the ability to protect their loved ones,” he said.

Sheena Henderson’s friends say the slain woman might have been able to protect herself if she had been notified by police that her estranged husband, Chris Henderson, had gone to the Spokane Police Department to retrieve his gun. Police had previously confiscated the weapon following a suicide attempt.

The day that Sheena Henderson was shot, “she was going to call and check on the gun on the way to work,” said Kristen Otoupalik, Sheena’s friend who lobbied the Legislature to pass the bill.

But Sheena never called, and Chris Henderson used the gun to kill Sheena and himself at her workplace, Deaconess Hospital in Spokane.

If the law had been in place, “we would have been able to keep her safe longer,” Otoupalik said Tuesday following the bill signing.

Inslee signs the Sheena Henderson bill into law.

Gov. Inslee signs the Sheena Henderson bill into law.

Senate Bill 5381 allows family or household members to request to be notified when police return a firearm to its owner. The notification can be done by telephone, email, text or personal service.

Both of Sheena’s children attended the bill signing on Tuesday, along with several friends and family members.

TVW taped the bill signing ceremony, watch it online here.

Kennison and Otoupalik say they intend to return to Olympia to continue to push for House Bill 1448, which creates a process for law enforcement officers to request mental health evaluations of people who attempt suicide.

The bill passed the House and out of a Senate committee, but was not brought up for a floor vote in the Senate before the end of regular session on April 24.

Gov. Inslee directs state to withhold pay from State Auditor Troy Kelley

By | April 28, 2015 | Comments

State Auditor Troy Kelley will not be paid by the state during his leave of absence to face federal charges, according to a letter delivered to the auditor by Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday.

State Auditor Troy Kelley surrounded by media as he leaves the U.S. District Court after pleading not guilty to 10 counts. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)

State Auditor Troy Kelley surrounded by media as he leaves the U.S. District Court after pleading not guilty to 10 counts. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)

Kelley was indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this month on ten counts, including tax evasion and lying under oath.

Kelley has maintained his innocence and said he will take a leave of absence from his job starting Friday, ignoring calls from Inslee and others for him to resign.

In the letter to the auditor, Inslee wrote that he has directed the Office of Financial Management and Department of Enterprise Services to withhold pay from Kelley “as long as you are not performing the duties of the office you were elected to perform.” Kelley will also be required to maintain health benefits at his own expense, according to the letter.

Inslee also repeated his call for Kelley to resign. “You have lost the trust of the public and the agencies that your office oversees,” he wrote. “I urge you to put the interests of the people of the State of Washington above your own.”

The governor has asked for Kelley to respond in writing by April 29 to explain how the office will operate in the auditor’s absence.

Categories: Governors Office
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Oil train bill, Sine Die ceremony on ‘Legislative Review’

By | April 27, 2015 | Comments

On our final weekly edition of “Legislative Review” for this year, we recap discussion of an oil train bill that passed on the final day of session. Plus, all the events of the week leading up to Sine Die.

“Legislative Review” will be back for an hourlong year-in-review show after the end of special session.

Categories: TVW

Washington’s regular legislative session ends; special session to begin April 29

By | April 25, 2015 | Comments

The Washington State Legislature gaveled out of the 2015 regular session Friday – two days earlier than the 105-day regular session was scheduled to end, but still weeks or more away from a budget deal.

split2Late in the session, lawmakers said they’d need more time to reach an agreement on how to fund the state for the next two years. The Democrat-led House and GOP-controlled Senate are still far apart on the basics.

House leaders say more revenue is needed to fully fund education and more as the state faces Supreme Court sanctions after an unprecedented court ruling. But the Senate is sticking with a no-new taxes proposal.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced a 30-day special session beginning April 29. The two chambers will have to make some concessions to find an agreement, he said.

“It is time to compromise and for all of us to compromise,” he said during a press conference earlier in the week. “I understand I won’t be getting everything I proposed, and I have told lawmakers they each need to now starting moving towards each other’s position. The House is going to have to find a way to reduce spending and the Senate will have to add revenue.”

Both sides will also have to compromise on a $15 billion transportation plan. The House and Senate agree state projects should be funded with a nearly 12-cent gas tax increase, but they’re stuck on the details.

The special session can adjourn before the full 30 days if they reach a deal. If not, Inslee can announce another special session to give lawmakers more time.

Categories: WA House, WA Senate

Medical marijuana regulations signed into law

By | April 25, 2015 | Comments

Medical marijuana will have clear, statewide regulations for the first time since Washington voters legalized recreational use, under a new state law.

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Gov. Jay Inslee signs medical marijuana regulations with the state’s youngest patient. Photo by Ashley Stewart.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday signed Senate Bill 5052 requiring licensed marijuana retailers to get special endorsements to sell medical products, changing rules for growers and creating a voluntary patient database.

It’s the only bill signed into law out of nearly 20 introduced this session to reconcile the state’s new, highly-taxed and regulated recreational market and the state’s medical marijuana market, which has existed in a gray area.

Inslee said this bill is a start. “As significant an accomplishment as this bill is for our state – and for patients to be ensured of having a safe place to get medicine they need – I know some remain concerned,” he said. “I recognize the solution is not perfect. However, I do think this is far better than today’s wholly unregulated system.”

Medical marijuana has been legal in Washington for 17 years, produced through collective gardens and sold through donation-based dispensaries. For the more than two years since voters approved Initiative 502, medical marijuana has existed without high regulatory and tax burdens that meant lower prices for patients.

Recreational retailers, meanwhile, have to follow licensing and other rules under the initiative. Now, medical stores will have to follow the same rules, with special requirements including a special endorsement from the state Liquor Control Board. Some patients worry the new law will mean they can’t afford the medicine they need.

Collective gardens, which allow growers to produce and supply as many as 10 patients with medical products, will be replaced in July with so-called cooperatives. As many as four patients will now be able to grow marijuana together, with a maximum of 60 plants.

The measure also creates a voluntary patient database, which supporters say will protect patients and retailers from arrest. Registered patients will be allowed to carry three times as much marijuana as recreational law allows. That’s 3 ounces of dry marijuana, with different amounts for other forms.

Unregistered patients can carry as much as recreational users.

Inslee vetoed parts of the bill he said were still unfinished and could cause confusion. Among the vetoed provisions, a plan to declassify marijuana from Schedule I — the most dangerous — and another that would have made the measure contingent on the passage of another bill.

The bill was signed hours before state lawmakers were scheduled to gavel out of the regular session two days ahead of schedule. Special session starts April 29.

Categories: Medical Marijuana