Everyday folks shouldn't have to hire a lawyer or wade through red tape and legal gobbledygook to get their day in court, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday. The high court reversed...
Everyday folks shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer or wade through red tape and legal gobbledygook to get their day in court, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The high court reversed a ruling that had dismissed the lawsuit of a Shelton man, who had challenged his county’s growth management plan, because of procedural issues.
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The courts are supposed to be accessible to ordinary citizens, the Supreme Court said in a unanimous ruling.
“We’re very pleased,” said Michael Robinson-Dorn, who was among a group of University of Washington Law School professors who filed a brief urging the court to rule as it did.
“Our legal system is full of a dizzying array of procedural requirements that are very difficult for citizens to navigate and unfortunately, some parties find it in their interest to raise these sorts of procedural hurdles to citizens who challenge legal actions. This ruling says that the doors of the court are open.”
According to court documents, John Diehl filed suit in Mason County Superior Court three years ago seeking the reversal of a decision by the county’s hearing board that would have allowed all of the area’s projected growth to occur in rural areas.
Diehl, who had not hired a lawyer and was representing himself, delivered notice of the lawsuit and a summary of his complaint to all the agencies and people involved either by hand or through the mail, he said.
None of the agencies said they failed to receive the documents, the high court noted in its ruling.
But before Diehl could talk about his concerns with the hearing board’s decision, the county asked that his lawsuit be dismissed, claiming that he had not specifically named all of the parties involved and that he had not hired a process server to distribute the legal documents.
The judge, Mason County Superior Court Judge M. Karlynn Haberly, dismissed the suit, and an appeals court supported that decision.
But the high court, in its reversal, wrote that the state’s Administrative Procedure Act, adopted by the Legislature in 1988, was meant “to provide greater public and legislative access to administrative decision making.”
The court’s decision was not particularly upsetting to Diehl’s legal opponents, according to Mason County Deputy Prosecutor Darren Nienaber, who said, “There was a genuine ambiguity before, and this sets forth a bright-line rule for everybody to follow. It’s probably something that we all can figure out and live with.”
The suit has been sent back to Mason County Superior Court, where Diehl will have a chance to argue his case.
Which is all, he said yesterday, he really wanted.
“In some ways, it’s a small matter of arcane procedure,” said Diehl. “But on another level, this is about access to the courts and in that respect, it was a victory for all of us.”
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org