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Recall effort against Spokane mayor to proceed

The state Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a petition to recall embattled Spokane, Wash.,  mayor James E. West can proceed.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a petition to recall embattled Spokane Mayor James E. West can proceed.

Shannon Sullivan, an unemployed mother, filed the petition in May, shortly after The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane published articles detailing how West had met men online for sex.

West’s attorneys argued that the petition bearing a single abuse-of-office charge was factually and legally insufficient.

Wednesday’s ruling upheld a lower court decision.

The recall petition alleges that West used his elected office for personal gain — specifically, that West wrote a recommendation letter to help someone he believed to be an 18-year-old man get a City Hall internship. The teen turned out to be a computer forensics expert hired by the newspaper as part of a journalistic investigation.

Sullivan contends the recommendation implied that the man would get an internship in exchange for sexual favors.

“All I wanted was for the people of Spokane to have a voice,” an ecstatic Sullivan said after the ruling. “I don’t want to sound pompous, but I knew I was right, and I knew if I stuck with my hard work and didn’t let them intimidate me, justice would prevail.”

Some still hope for resignation
Her lawyer, Jerry Davis, said he still hoped a recall election wouldn’t be necessary: “What would be nice would be if the mayor would do the right thing and resign. If he had any character whatsoever that’s what he’d do.”

The mayor’s lawyers said in a statement that “although we disagree with the outcome, we respect the court’s decision. As to the basis for the court’s ruling, we’ll await their written opinion.”

The ruling means recall supporters can begin collecting the required 12,600 valid signatures following a five-day waiting period, Davis said.

But the delay raised questions about whether the petition could be completed in time for the regularly scheduled November election.

Ballot deadline: Friday
Spokane County Elections Supervisor Paul Brandt said his office would have to receive the petitions no later than Friday to verify the signatures and take other steps to get the recall on the Nov. 8 ballot.

“Unless they can really get their signatures quickly, with all the deadlines, I very much doubt they could make it by the November election,” he said.

Davis disputed that, saying the measure could still make the November ballot even if signatures were turned in beyond the Friday deadline. He noted that a separate recall election would cost an estimated $2.1 million.

In arguments earlier Wednesday, Sullivan — who organized a car wash to cover her travel expenses from Spokane to Olympia — told the Supreme Court that the mayor “has let us down. ... The trust, I believe, in our good city has been violated.”

Mayor's lawyers dispute petition
West’s lawyers argued that Sullivan’s petition was based on innuendo and insinuation. They said the newspaper articles were not proof of misfeasance and that a lower court judge went too far in rewriting the petition to meet legal requirements after Sullivan submitted it.

West, a conservative Republican and former state senator, is a longtime opponent of gay rights. He has admitted having relationships with adult men but denies any misuse of office. He has not been charged with a crime, but the FBI is investigating.

The Spokane City Council has unanimously called for West to resign, but Councilman Joe Shogan said the recall election is a good alternative.

“The people of the city who elected the mayor will now have the power to decide if he remains in office,” Shogan said. “It’s an opportunity for the people to be heard on the matter.”