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Washington Supreme Court Finds State In Contempt In McCleary Case

Austin Jenkins
Members of the McCleary family won a school funding lawsuit against the State of Washington. They spoke to reporters outside the Washington Supreme Court following a contempt hearing Sept. 3, 2014.

In an unprecedented move, the Washington Supreme Court has ruled the state in contempt of court in the McCleary school funding case. However, the justices will wait to impose sanctions until after the 2015 legislative session to give the legislature time to "purge the contempt."

"[C]ontempt is the means by which a court enforces compliance with its lawful orders when they are not followed," reads the five-page order signed by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. "If the contempt is not purged by adjournment of the 2015 legislature, the court will reconvene and impose sanctions or other remedial measures."

The order represents a partial victory for the plaintiffs in the McCleary case. They argued in court last week for a finding of contempt and sanctions to be imposed in January if the legislature didn't meet in special session before then to address the court's demands.

The state argued that the court should hold off on both a finding of contempt and sanctions until after the 2015 legislative session. 

The finding of contempt stems from the legislature's failure to provide the court "a complete plan for fully implementing its program of basic education" by the 2017-18 school year.

In 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously found in the McCleary case that the state is not meeting its "paramount duty" under the state constitution to amply fund public education. The case was brought by  families of students and a coalition that includes school districts, unions and other groups.

The Washington Supreme Court has retained jurisdiction in the case and requires annual progress reports from the state.  

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.