ACLU and NORML Win Ruling Limiting Citizens’ Rights

By Arthur West

(Olympia, WA) Court of Appeals rules on behalf of ACLU that citizens have no civil right to maintain a citizen’s action under the Public Disclosure Act.

Please find attached a July 14 ruling by Commissioner Schmidt of Division II of the Court of Appeals, that, ironically, upholds an order of dismissal obtained by the ACLU (and NORML) arguing that unrepresented citizens lack the right to maintain citizen’s actions under Washington State’s Public Disclosure Act.

Appellant had sued NORML and the ACLU to require them to be subject to reporting as Political Action Committees due to their massive financial support of I-502, which “legalized” marijuana for those obtaining licenses or buying from licensed stores.

The ruling relies upon federal Qui Tam precedent to find that the Public Disclosure Act’s Citizen Action provisions (originally passed by Initiative in 1972) cannot be employed by citizens unless they retain attorneys to represent them.

Attorney Elizabeth Hallock, appearing for the appellant, had argued that the PDA and federal Qui Tam actions are not identical and that a  citizen’s interest under the PDA is different than a relator charging fraud upon the government. Counsel also argued that the intent of the people in adopting the Citizen’s action provisions of PDA could not have been to require citizens to have attorneys, and that this would make the prospect of citizen enforcement dubious at best,due to the novelty of the subject matter and the lack of any provision in the law to ensure recovery of costs.

The Commissioner’s ruling may conflict with a recent Supreme Court decision in Utter v. BIAW that explicitly found that citizens had a right to maintain such actions under Washington Law.

The Court also declined to find NORML to be subject to PAC reporting requirements, or remand the case back to the Superior Court for the appellant’s recently retained attorney to argue that NORML, as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. is subject to the PAC reporting requirements of the PDA because one of its primary purposes was to make expenditures to influence a ballot proposition, I-502.

The ACLU and NORML wrote, financed, ran and co-ordinated New Approach Washington, and heavily supported I-502 with donations and staff support. Allison Holcomb, the figurehead for I-502, was the Washington ACLU’s Drug Policy Director. The complaint had alleged that both NORML and the ACLU made substantial expenditures to support a ballot proposition, and were thus subject to PAC reporting requirements.

The ruling is subject to review by a panel of the Court of Appeals and possible discretionary review by the State Supreme Court.

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