By Darren Smith Weekend Contributor
The intrigue after the fallout generated by State Supreme Court holding the state, and essentially the legislature, in contempt for failing to adequately address their constitutionally mandated funding of primary education, the legislature refused to allocate time to allow Barbara Madsen, the Chief Justice, to give the State of The Judiciary Address.
Legislators claimed, among other issues, it was due to the historical lack of attendance by members and not an insult directed at the Supreme Court.
We previously reported HERE about the Washington Supreme Court ruling the legislature did not fully fund primary education pursuant to the state constitution and various court decisions holding that the legislature responsible for its inactions. After the legislature failed to meet the Supreme Court’s mandate after several warnings from the court, the court held the state, and by extension the legislature, in contempt–causing a constitutional row between the two branches of government.
The court in McCleary v. State, 173 Wn.2d 477, 269 P.3d 227 (2012) unanimously affirmed a declaratory judgment of the King County Superior Court finding that the state was not meeting its “paramount duty … to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders” under Article IX Section 1 of the state constitution. The court initially deferred to the legislature’s chosen means of discharging its constitutional duty, but retained jurisdiction over the case to monitor the State’s progress in implementing by 2018 the reforms that the legislature had recently adopted. Pursuant to its retention of jurisdiction, the court has called for periodic reports from the State on its progress. Following the State’s first report in 2012, the court issued an order directing the State to lay out its plan “in sufficient detail to allow progress to be measured according to periodic benchmarks between then and 2014.”
The legislature failed to meet the court’s demands for production of evidence of progress and the court then found the state in contempt. The issue has brought up certainly the notion of separation of powers, but the possibility of sanctions has many in the legislature motivated to now act.
The Contempt Order it reads that in 2013 the legislative session, the Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation issued a report in which the Court found that the State was not making sufficient progress to be on target to fully fund education reforms by the 2017-18 school year. Reiterating that the State had to show through immediate and concrete action that it was making real and measurable progress. The court also issued an order in January 2014 directing the state to submit by April 30, 2014 a “complete plan for fully implementing its program of basic education for each school year between now and the 2017-18 school year,” including a “phase-in schedule for funding each of the components of basic education.”
The heat began to be turned up on the legislature when the Court ordered in June 2014 that the State appear before the court and show cause why it should not be held in contempt for violating the January order and why that if contempt is found that sanction or other relief requested by the plaintiffs in the case should not be granted.
During the show cause hearing on September third, the State admitted that it did not comply with the January order, but instead asked the court to provide the legislature with time during the 2015 budget session to develop and enact a play for fully funding K-12 by 2018.
The Supreme Court stated it would not begin contempt proceedings until after the 2015 legislative session and if the legislature failed to meet its mandate.
“The State of the Judiciary address has been a tradition in Washington State for several decades now. It has served as a positive tool to inform the Legislature and the public about the state of Washington’s justice system,” Chief Justice Madsen said in a written statement to The Olympian and The News Tribune. “I hope that, in the future, the Supreme Court will again be invited to make this important presentation.”
The State of The Judiciary Address, presided by the Chief Justice every two years, is a tradition spanning over two decades before the legislature. The address generally provides an overview of issues such as funding and progress the judiciary has made in addressing concerns such as public defenders and other matters affecting this branch of government. The governor provides a compliment called The State of the State Address.
In an interview, Senator Don Denton of Vancouver stated: “To be honest with you, most people think it’s a horrible waste of time. Most members don’t get much out of it. Most members don’t even bother attending.” He stated his preference would be to receive the address in writing with no presentation.
Sharon Nelson of Maury Island provided her insight with: “The only question I would have is will it look like a conflict that we are trying to create with the Supreme Court?”
The Tribune reported that House leadership later came to a similar conclusion, in part because it was concerned that some members upset with the court might use the vote required to schedule the joint session as an opportunity to take aim.
“I think there was some fear there would be a debate that could inflame the situation,” explained House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan of Covington.
Not wanting to convey a slap at the court, Sullivan said he met directly with Madsen during the week before Christmas. “I made clear we have no interest in legislation that is meant to punish the courts or hold them in any disregard,’’ he said.
In the end, Chief Justice Madsen stated she would provide the written statement.
Once again the state legislature has provided another reason for the public itself to hold legislatures in contempt for their conduct. In this case its contempt for the judiciary.
It is not credible that the legislature can claim an important aspect of governance in a once every two year presentation is not worthwhile and should not be permitted. In doing so it not only prevented the judiciary’s progress report to the legislature, which could find some wisdom in taking measures to work with the judiciary to provide a better system of justice for the public, but it flatly denied the citizenry an opportunity to hear the Chief Justice provide us with an important update and forum for which we may be informed and educated. Had this been done, the presentation would have been televised by TVW and made available on video through the Internet.
But what is more contemptuous: the snub and insult; or the fact that the legislature proclaims rather robustly that it plays hooky when faced with important meetings and acts without courtesy and responsibility? The legislature in effect told Chief Justice Madsen to take a number and turned its back to her.
But, apparently, the legislature gave the appearance it was too busy performing its important duties, such as legislating, having lunch with lobbyists and making proclamations for pet projects to make them look good politically and therefore didn’t have time to deal with lesser branches of government.
Washington has a State of the State Address, held by the governor. No doubt the legislature will somehow find the time to pack the chamber to near standing room only to entreat the governor and show the tribute and respect they have for that branch of government. Maybe they can show that they in fact consider the governorship to be a branch of government equal to that of the judiciary and have him just send a letter and maybe they’ll call back.
By Darren Smith
Source: The News Tribune
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