Court Decisions

Read this story by the Olympian on the state Supreme Court’s decision, which many of us characterized as “Lying is OK” in political campaigns. It may have bearing on another case in which the Supreme Court 5-4 that Bainbridge Island’s shoreline moratorium ran afoul of the law.

Schellberg said he was “a little intrigued” by Chief Justice Gerry Alexander’s concurring opinion in the case and hoped he would elaborate.

Alexander provided the fifth, or majority, voice in the case that pitted former Green Party candidate Marylou Rickert of Shelton against the PDC, which fined her $1,000 after deciding she deliberately made false statements about the voting record of state Sen. Tim Sheldon in his 2002 re-election campaign.

The Court of Appeals rejected the finding and the Supreme Court agreed, but Alexander and the other four justices in the majority went too far “in concluding that any government censorship of political speech would run afoul of the First Amendment to the United States,” Schellberg said.

“The United States Supreme Court has ruled that defamation is not protected … The government, thus, may penalize defamatory political speech,” Alexander added in his half-page-long opinion.

In the Bainbridge case many stories would lead you to believe the city was absolutely wrong in doing the shoreline moratorium. In reality, that was the opinion of four of the justices. The fifth, Tom Chambers, voted against the city because the moratorium went too long. Christopher Dunagan pointed out the distinction in Chambers’ argument.

Breaking the 4-4 tie was Justice Tom Chambers, who agreed with Fairhurst that moratoria are permitted under the law, but he expressed outrage at the length of time that Bainbridge Island’s moratorium continued.

“I write separately in part to state in unequivocal terms my view that the city of Bainbridge Island’s year after year renewal of a shoreline building permit moratorium was an act of stagnant municipal government,” he said. “Those who govern fail the public’s trust when they are unwilling, unable or simply neglect to roll up their sleeves, gather the information necessary and make the tough decisions they are elected to make.”

So, calling all lawyers, does Chambers’ acceptance of moratoria in his otherwise rebuke of the island mean that moratoria are actually permitted?

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