Although he's not a lawyer, Renton activist Chris Clifford made his case before the Washington state Supreme Court Thursday that he should be allowed to proceed in his effort to recall Port of Seattle Commissioner Pat Davis.
Although he’s not a lawyer, Renton activist Chris Clifford made his case before the Washington state Supreme Court Thursday that he should be allowed to proceed in his effort to recall Port of Seattle Commissioner Pat Davis.
A high-school teacher, licensed falconer and political gadfly — he’s fought Boeing, the city of Seattle and tent-city camps, to name a few opponents — Clifford represented himself before the justices.
He argued that Davis committed malfeasance when she signed a 2006 memo that sought to give former Port CEO Mic Dinsmore an additional year of his $339,841 salary after he retired in March 2007.
That memo amounted to an unlawful gift of public funds, Clifford told the court. Port officials refused to give Dinsmore the money after Davis’ memo was made public.
Most Read Local Stories
- Seattle unprepared for deadly heat waves made worse by global warming, researchers say
- Is a stepfather still a father? Court says yes, handing Seattle woman a win
- Formerly homeless Tacoma teen becomes first in his family to head to college
- Lori Matsukawa stepping down after 36 years at KING 5 VIEW
- 'Petty argument' over baby gate ended with a Renton man fatally shooting his daughter, prosecutors say
The court didn’t rule Thursday whether Clifford has sufficient grounds to move ahead with recall petitions. But if he wins, he will have six months to collect about 155,000 signatures to put Davis’ recall on the ballot in King County.
“That’s all I’m asking to do,” Clifford said as he stood and addressed the justices.
King County Superior Court Judge Charles Mertel decided last year that Clifford could pursue a recall. Davis appealed to the state’s highest court.
Davis’ lawyer, Suzanne Thomas, argued that a citizen’s ability to recall an elected official is not an unfettered right, but one Thomas said is “subject to certain safeguards for the protection of the public and elected officials.”
Clifford lacks sufficient legal reason to recall Davis, who has held office since 1986, Thomas said. He has failed to specify a law that Davis broke, as required by a malfeasance charge, she argued — and any potential harm to taxpayers was cured by the Port commission’s decision not to give Dinsmore the retirement package.
“You need something to be sick before you find a cure,” Clifford countered.
Justices Gerry Alexander and Barbara Madsen asked whether Davis’ memo might allow Dinsmore to argue in court that the Port is obliged to pay him the retirement package.
Thomas said she didn’t think the memo was legally binding.
Davis, who was in the courtroom, wouldn’t say what she would do if the court ruled against her. “I have to wait until the court decides,” she said.
The case has quirks beyond Clifford’s colorful background, which includes stints as a semipro football player and bar owner. He fought Seattle City Hall, arguing in federal court in the late 1990s that the city had tried to shut down Jerseys All American Sports Bar because it catered to African Americans.
Clifford’s attorney in that case, which he lost in 2000, was Thomas — now Davis’ attorney. He said he had no problem with that.
Clifford also took on Boeing in the early 1990s and lost when it moved to develop the Longacres Race Track for offices.
After Thursday’s hearing, Clifford said his latest case offers a civics lesson to his history students at Orting High School. “I’m not anybody special. I look at students and say, ‘Don’t you guys get this is what makes this country special?’ “
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org