7/11/2011Washington: City Sued for Blocking Anti-Camera Referendum
Supporters of anti-camera initiative sue Longview, Washington over its attempt to block ballot access.
Opponents of red light cameras and speed cameras are taking the offensive against city councils and camera vendors who have been taking extreme measures to keep the issue of automated ticketing off the ballot. A Cowlitz County, Washington superior court judge will hear arguments later today in a countersuit that accuses the city of Longview of violating an anti-SLAPP law. The state last year banned what are called "strategic lawsuits against public participation" with a measure that grants expedited court procedures to initiative sponsors and a $10,000 penalty against anyone found to be exploiting the legal system to thwart a petition drive.
After losing fifteen straight ballot contests, photo enforcement companies and their customers have redoubled efforts to keep camera issues from ever being presented to voters. On May 23, Mike Wallin had submitted 3628 signatures from voters wanting the camera issue to be decided at the next citywide election. Instead of forwarding the signatures to the county auditor for verification as required by law, the city council decided to file suit against Wallin on June 7.
"The initiative process is hard enough for citizen-based efforts without the city utilizing its tax-supported resources to impose additional obstacles to ballot access," Wallin's attorney, Richard M. Stephens, wrote in his countersuit. "If the city can do this without consequence every time that political leaders oppose a petition to government, it will fundamentally undermine not only the initiative process, but the constitutionally protected right and civic value in citizen communication with their elected representatives... At its most fundamental level, the city's suit and motion are nothing more than political tactics to detract petitioner Wallin from his signature gathering process to force him to expend funds for purposes other than informing the public of the message Initiative No. 1 is designed to send."
Under the statute, the city has the burden of proving by convincing evidence that it is likely to prevail in its lawsuit. Wallin argues that this is impossible because the city does not even having standing to sue at this stage because it has suffered no tangible harm.
"Citizen petitioners should not have to carry the additional expense of hiring lawyers to defend themselves and their initiative simply because elected officials oppose the measure and do not want to see petitions signed by their constituents on their desk," Stephens wrote.