OLYMPIA — The state Supreme Court cleared the way Thursday for signature-gathering to begin in a second recall effort against Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney.
Following a closed-door conference, justices issued a two-page ruling that finalizes the content of recall petitions that will be circulated starting Friday by those seeking to oust the first-year sheriff.
Those petitions will contain three charges — two tied to Fortney’s public criticism of Gov. Jay Inslee in April, when he stated in a viral Facebook post that Inslee’s stay-home order amid the coronavirus pandemic was unconstitutional, and that his deputies would not enforce it.
Petitions will also include a third claim that Fortney “exercised discretion in a manifestly unreasonable manner” by rehiring three deputies fired for misconduct by the previous sheriff.
Justices, who considered the issue of petition claims in conference Thursday, tossed out one charge brought by recall petitioners. It dealt with a public statement made in a case in which a sheriff’s deputy tackled a Black medical worker who was accused of jaywalking.
“We are ecstatic,” said Colin McMahon, a public defender and one of four local attorneys behind the effort to oust Fortney. “The most important charge from the folks I’ve spoken to so far is the rehiring charge. That’s what I think is going to be a tipping point for this effort.”
It’s very clear, he continued, that in allowing the claim to go forward, justices don’t think the rehiring was right.
Mark Lamb of Bothell, attorney for Fortney, found a silver lining in the decision too.
“We are encouraged that the Supreme Court threw out the most extreme of the anti-police claims made by the recall proponents,” he said, a reference to a claim involving the arrest of the jaywalker. “The remaining claims are meritless and will be thrown out by the people of Snohomish County in due time.”
To get on the ballot, those leading the recall will have 180 days — until March 10, 2021 — to gather valid signatures of roughly 45,000 registered Snohomish County voters. If successful, an election would be held between 45 and 90 days once the signature count is certified by the Snohomish County elections office.
“We are going to be finalizing the petitions tonight and start collecting tomorrow,” McMahon said.
As with all political campaigns this fall, the pandemic will put a pinch on getting petitions signed.
Initially they’ll email petitions to supporters who will then print, sign and mail it back, he said. In time, it may be possible to set up locations where people can drive up and sign petitions — similar to the successful strategy of those who gathered several hundred thousand signatures for Referendum 90 on this November’s ballot.
Fortney did not seek Supreme Court review of another recall petition, filed by Monroe resident Lori Shavlik. Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning allowed Shavlik’s recall effort to go forward on May 15. So far, the two groups have acted independently of each other.