Today was an important day in the legal challenge against Tim Eyman’s I‑976.
King County Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson heard more than two hours of oral argument this morning from attorneys representing the state and a coalition of plaintiffs who are suing the state concerning the fate of Eyman’s latest assault on Washington’s public services. I‑976 jeopardizes billions in bipartisan, voter-approved transportation investments at multiple levels, and if it is not stopped, it will harm communities in every part of the state.
Arguing for the plaintiffs (who contend that I‑976 is unconstitutional) were Seattle’s Carolyn Boies, King County’s David Hackett, and Pacifica Law Group’s Matthew Segal. Boies and Hackett represented the local governments they work for, while Segal represented the remaining plaintiffs, which include the Association of Washington Cities, Garfield County Transportation Authority, and Intercity Transit, plus the Washington State Transit Association and Michael Rogers.
Arguing for the State was Deputy Solicitor General Alan Copsey. The State of Washington is the defendant in this case because I‑976 passed in the November 2019 general election. (Note that I‑976 was *not* approved by a majority of Washington State voters; most Washingtonians did not vote in the election.)
At the outset of the oral argument, Judge Marshall Ferguson made it clear that he expected everyone in his courtroom to behave appropriately and uphold the decorum of the court. And for the entirety of the proceedings, everyone did… everyone except for I‑976 sponsor Tim Eyman, that is.
It took only a few days for Eyman’s Election Night euphoria to totally evaporate. Giddy Tim Eyman has been replaced by Angry Tim Eyman… a sullen figure who snaps and snarls and is prone to sudden outbursts when he is deprived of attention or an opportunity to hear the sound of his own voice for too long.
Those present in the courtroom this morning got to watch Angry Tim Eyman blow up right before their very eyes just before Ferguson declared court adjourned.
Upon the conclusion of oral argument, but before Ferguson had risen to return to chambers, Eyman sprang out of his front-row seat in the courtroom and proceeded to hijack the proceedings, denouncing the Attorney General’s efforts in defense of Initiative 976 as inadequate and whining that his pal Clint Didier’s attempts to intervene in the case had not borne any fruit yet.
Judge Marshall Ferguson responded calmly, telling Eyman he was out of line, but Eyman refused to sit down and continued his rant.
The judge responded a second time, reiterating that Eyman was not recognized to address the court and noting that pretty much every member of the public in his courtroom likely also has strong feelings about Initiative 976 and might appreciate an opportunity to speak to the court about the case.
With Eyman still glaring at him, Judge Ferguson then (without skipping a beat!) declared the proceedings concluded and rose to return to his chambers.
A still-angry Eyman proceeded to approach Solicitor General Noah Purcell, one of Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s top staff members, and unleash a torrent of verbal abuse. Purcell was not intimidated and flatly told Eyman that he was wrong and that he should be grateful to the Attorney General’s staff for their outstanding work in defense of Initiative 976. I witnessed this exchange alongside The Associated Press’ Ted Warren, who is a talented photographer.
Judge Ferguson had previously stated at the outset of the hearing that he intended to rule on the request for a preliminary injunction to stay Initiative 976’s implementation later on Tuesday or tomorrow (Wednesday, November 27th).
As no opinion has been released by Judge Ferguson as of this evening, we can presume that it will be published tomorrow.
I imagine that Judge Ferguson is drafting his own written ruling as opposed to utilizing the proposed order supplied by the plaintiffs.
Having now been a guest in Judge Ferguson’s courtroom for three hours, I can see why our Governor appointed him to the bench.
Judge Ferguson is thoughtful, diligent, kind, and patient. It was evident that he had read all of the briefs in this case thoroughly. The judge occasionally flipped through what appeared to be a set of extensive notes on yellow lined notepads as he formulated questions for Boies, Hackett, Segal, and Copsey to answer.
This did not escape the notice of the attorneys working on the case. Both sides complimented Ferguson on his preparation and attention to their arguments.
Judge Ferguson’s staff were equally kind and set the example for appropriate conduct with their pleasant demeanor. Ferguson and his staff allocated the jury box for the media’s use, providing reporters a place to set up cameras and other equipment. An overflow room was also configured to ensure that additional seating would be available for members of the public who wished to observe.
What really struck me about this oral argument was how long it went. Judge Ferguson was in absolutely no hurry at all. Instead of directing the attorneys to confine their presentations to say, twenty minutes each, Ferguson allotted around an hour for each side and built in a fifteen-minute break halfway in.
Essentially, Ferguson opted for thoroughness over quickness. That resulted in a hearing that took up the whole morning. Despite its length, it was a much more satisfying hearing to witness because the issues were so well covered.
Regardless of how Ferguson rules tomorrow, it was apparent to me that he takes his role and responsibilities as a judge seriously. The people of Washington State can trust that Judge Ferguson will think critically about these weighty matters, and consider the arguments carefully before he issues an opinion.