Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

With time expiring, sheriff recall group shy of signatures

A recall leader says they are unlikely to submit petitions after a judge denied their request for an extension.

EVERETT — A Snohomish County judge on Monday denied a last-minute request by residents seeking to recall Sheriff Adam Fortney for more time to gather signatures and put the question in front of voters.

Within minutes of the ruling by Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Jennifer R. Langbehn, a leader of the recall effort said they had come up short in their quest.

“At this point we don’t have the requisite number of signatures and will not be submitting signed petitions unless we achieve that mark,” said Colin McMahon, chair of the Committee to Recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney.

To qualify for the ballot, the group must turn in signatures of roughly 45,000 registered voters by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“We’re well off the mark,” McMahon said.

This would be the second failed recall attempt against the first-term sheriff in the past year. A bid led by Monroe resident Lori Shavlik faltered late last year.

Fortney declined to comment Monday, referring questions to attorney Mark Lamb of Bothell

“I think it’s encouraging that the Defund Police movement in Snohomish County has failed and the sheriff is in a stronger position than he was before this ill-conceived recall effort began,” Lamb said.

McMahon disagreed.

While voters won’t get a chance to remove the sheriff from office right away, they will be better informed the next time his name is on a ballot, McMahon said.

“What we’ve done is expose who he is and what he is about and the policies he is going to follow,” McMahon said.

McMahon, a public defender — along with criminal defense attorney Samantha Sommerman, immigration attorney Terry Preshaw and civil attorney Brittany Tri — filed their original recall petition last May, five months after Fortney took office.

They alleged the county’s top cop committed several acts of “malfeasance and misfeasance” and violated his oath of office.

A series of legal wrangles ensued on what charges would be allowed in the recall petitions, ultimately reaching the state Supreme Court for resolution.

Those petitions contain three charges. Two are tied to Fortney’s public criticism of Gov. Jay Inslee last April, when the sheriff 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.

A third charge stemmed from the rehiring of three deputies who had been fired for misconduct by the previous sheriff.

State law provides 180 days for signature gathering for a recall. The committee began collecting them Sept. 11.

It didn’t take long for leaders to realize amassing at least 44,494 signatures by the March 9 deadline would be a huge challenge under health and safety restrictions due to the ongoing pandemic.

“Obviously we understood the pandemic would have a significant impact on our signature-gathering efforts,” McMahon said. “We did truly feel we could overcome that.”

When they realized they couldn’t, they asked County Auditor Garth Fell for a 90-day extension, citing the pandemic as an extenuating circumstance. Fell concluded he lacked the legal authority to do what they wanted.

The Secretary of State’s Office also turned them down. A recall committee volunteer emailed the governor on March 3, asking for his help. The next day, McMahon went to court in hopes of getting a judge to intercede and instruct Fell to grant them the additional months.

“We have been hamstrung by the pandemic,” McMahon told Langbehn during Monday’s hearing, adding that the COVID-19 restrictions “created an impediment to our constitutional right to recall a public official.”

Another 90 days should be enough as the state is “at the back end of the pandemic. We are at a position where many of the restrictions may be eased.”

Jason Cummings, chief civil deputy prosecutor for the county, said the recall committee knew they faced hurdles with the pandemic and should have acted months ago, rather than waiting until the final hours to seek a reprieve.

And, he argued, if the state-imposed restrictions are the impediment, then the state and the governor needed to be named parties, which they were not.

Judge Langbehn said she was “not unsympathetic to the arguments and to the problems encountered” by the recall committee. She sided with the county contention that the state and governor should have been named as interested parties and that she could not direct Fell to extend the signature-gathering deadline.

“At every avenue we were unsuccessful,” McMahon said following the hearing. “That’s where we are today.”

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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