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Washington Justices Weigh Contempt, Sanctions Following McCleary Hearing

Austin Jenkins
Following a contempt hearing, members of the McCleary family, who sued the state of Washington over school funding, answer questions from the media on the steps of the Washington Supreme Court.

The Washington Supreme Court has heard the arguments, and it must now decide whether to hold the state in contempt for failing to submit a complete plan to fully fund schools.

The nine justices heard oral arguments Wednesday in a historic hearing that could result in sanctions against the state Legislature.

First up was the state. Deputy solicitor general Alan Copsey admitted the Legislature is not in compliance with the Supreme Court. But, he said, “The failure to comply does not demand an order of contempt.”

Oh, but it does, responded attorney Tom Ahearne, who represents the coalition that sued the state over school funding.

“Call a spade a spade. They’re in contempt. Don’t be afraid to say the word ‘contempt,’” Ahearne said.

It’s been nearly three years since the Washington Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary case that the state is not amply funding public schools. At the end of the hearing, Justice Mary Yu suggested the state wants special treatment from the court.

“I mean, you’re asking for a political accommodation. That’s what you’re asking for. So, short of doing nothing, what can this court do?” Yu said.

Replied Copsey: “Respectfully, what we’re really asking for is a constitutional accommodation to the political branch of government.”

If the justices find the state in contempt, the next question is whether to impose sanctions and how to do that.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.