Attorney General Ferguson to Edmonds Rotary: Law, not politics, guides state actions

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    Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson was the guest of honor at Tuesday’s regular Edmonds Rotary Club lunch event, which was relocated to the Edmonds Theater to accommodate a larger-than-usual audience.

    “This is my 131st Rotary address,” began Ferguson. “I love speaking to Rotary clubs because, even though I’m not a Rotarian myself, we’re in the same business — service to our community.  Everyone in my office could make more money working for a private firm, but all are committed to serving the people of the State of Washington. We’re in service to you.”

    He went on to give a quick overview of the AG’s office, noting that it’s the “largest law firm in the state,” employing 640 attorneys and more than 600 professional staff.

    “Although we are part of state government, we are strictly independent,” he explained. “Our job is defending and supporting Washington State laws. Everyone has laws they disagree with, but as professionals we put our personal views aside.

    “For example, I’m personally opposed to the death penalty, but this is irrelevant in upholding the law in our state,” he continued. “The people have made it clear — they want the death penalty and as AG my personal opposition does not interfere with my enforcement of this law. Think of us as the state’s law firm, providing legal advice, council, etc. As such, maintaining this independence is critical.”

    But it’s more than just working for the state.

    “We also work for the people,” he said. “And this is different from the kind of work we do for the state, focusing on areas like civil rights, criminal justice, anti-trust and consumer protection. It also includes work we do at the national level against the administration in Washington, D.C.”

    Ferguson explained that maintaining the independence of the AG’s office means that things work a little differently when administrations change.

    “The previous AG, Rob McKenna, belongs to a different political party than I do, and in many other state AG offices this means that when administrations change the new head will often clear out the staff and fill it with new folks,” he said. “But the independence of the AG’s office makes this pretty much a non-issue. When I took over, I asked McKenna’s five deputy AGs to stay, just as he had done when he took over from (Democrat) Chris Gregoire years before. The point is, keeping continuity is important. We’re independent professionals no matter who sits in the AG’s office.”

    Ferguson then transitioned to explaining some the work of the AG’s Consumer Protection Division.

    “We receive about 20,000 consumer complaints per year,” he said.  “We have a big team that handles these, running down people and organizations engaging in deceptive or unfair business practices.”

    As an example, Ferguson cited the case of a scammer in the Midwest who sent tens of thousands of letters to small businesses informing them that they were late in filing corporate paperwork with the Secretary of State and needed to immediately send in a $125 filing fee or bad things would happen. The letters had an Olympia return address and appeared to come from a government agency. More than 2,900 Washington businesses dutifully mailed in their $125, but of course there is no such requirement.

    The scammer had done the same trick in other states, and other AG’s had caught them and settled for what Ferguson described as a “small amount of money.”

    But Ferguson’s office brought a lawsuit and received a favorable judgment that ordered the scammer to not only pay back the people they’d deceived, but also pay Washington State a $1.1 million penalty.

    “So in this case our office is a money-maker,” he explained.  “Recoveries like this pay to run the Consumer Protection Division, with the excess going to the State General Fund. Because of actions like this, not one dime of tax dollars ever goes to pay for salaries and expenses in the Consumer Protection Division. It’s completely funded from judgements like these.”

    He went on to talk about the 32 suits filed in the name of the people of the State of Washington against the current federal administration.

    “I know that some in the state may not agree with or support these suits,” he said. “When we file, it’s not a political thing but rather it’s when we see that something illegal is being done.”

    One case that received much national attention was the suit brought against President Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

    “We were the first state to file, but others soon joined us,” said Ferguson. “The policy was controversial. No one argued that the President does not have the authority in this area.  The U.S. Department of Justice was arguing that not only did the President have the authority to issue this executive order, but that it and other executive orders are unreviewable by the courts. They were saying that the courts can’t look at the reasoning, thinking and/or motives behind an executive order, and that the President has essentially unlimited powers that the courts can’t question.

    “We argued that this is illegal, and the courts upheld our case and rejected the DOJ argument,” he added. “And I’m proud to say that Washington State vs. Trump is now used as a textbook example of the limits of presidential power.”

    Ferguson gave additional examples including removing DACA protections and the separation of families at the border.

    The subsequent question-and-answer session included questions about the suit against the poaching provisions in fast food industry contracts, in which franchise operators were compelled by their corporate headquarters to not hire employees from other franchises of the same company (for example, an Edmonds Burger King worker could not transfer to the Lynnwood Burger King).

    Ferguson’s office saw this as a violation of anti-trust laws, that has the effect of suppressing wages for lower-wage workers. His office informed the companies that they would face lawsuits if they didn’t change this practice, and according to Ferguson “most have fallen into line” and that “so far” they haven’t had to litigate.

    Another question involved gun control, specifically the requirement to purchase certain types of firearms and Initiative 1691.

    “I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment,” said Ferguson, “but I believe that just as with free speech — you can’t scream fire in a crowded theater — there are common-sense limits on the right to bear arms.”

    He explained that to purchase a handgun in Washington State, a customer needs to be 21 years old, complete an online background check at the place of purchase, and then wait 10 days to pick up the weapon.

    But for an assault rifle such as an AK-15, you only need to be 18 years old, fill out the form at the dealer, and you walk out with the gun the same day. No waiting period.

    “This is just what happened in the Mukilteo school shooting last year,” he explained. “The shooter bought the assault rifle at Cabela’s, read the instructions outside the party, went inside and started shooting. To me fixing this is common-sense gun reform, and is perfectly in keeping with the Second Amendment.”

    Subsequent questions touched on immigration issues, full financial disclosure in the state initiative process, and protecting seniors from being exploited by relatives and caregivers.

    — Story and photos by Larry Vogel

    20 Replies to “Attorney General Ferguson to Edmonds Rotary: Law, not politics, guides state actions”

    1. Bob sued Arlene of Arlene’s Flowers personally, going after her private assets, while ignoring Bedlam Coffee altogether. He’s a political activist who has weaponized the office. SCOTUS even had to pump the brakes ppl like Bob (Cake shop Ltd. v. Colorado).

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    2. Also, you can tell fire in a movie theater. I didn’t go to law school but every lawyer knows there no Prior Restraint on Free Speech. Bob either doesnt know that… or he does. – absolutely un-nuanced and cringy to here an AG say something so folksy and patently false.

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      1. I’ll leave the politics to others, but Ferguson is correct about limits on the First Amendment.

        From the unanimous Supreme Court opinion in Schenck v. United States:

        “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

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    3. It appears obvious that the AG is gearing up to run for governor and the governor will be running for president.

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      1. I asked him privately if he would like to have a shorter commute to work. I then reminded him his current office is just across the hall from another larger office and it comes with a house right near by. Thus the shorter commute. Since he was on state business he did not verbally respond but his big smile was a clue.

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    4. Reid, Schenck v. United States was undone by subsequent decisions. We can’t quote Dred Scott as the legal basis for slavery. In Schenck, where the you can’t yell fire in a movie theater myth came from, the majority opinion proposed that analogy as an example of speech that had Prior Restraint, in the same way that handing out pamphlets criticizing the draft in WWI should be prohibited because compromising draft efforts endangers society in the same way. I could stop there, being that Schenck was orphaned by subsequent decisions reaffirming the right to criticize the draft and [by proxy] the right to yell fire in a theater.

      I watched a great movie called The Post on a plane last night. It starred Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, the first woman editor of the Washington Post. The dilemma was whether or not to publish the Pentagon Papers after the NYT had already received an injunction for doing so, which the Post did, and the landmark SCOTUS ruling that affirmed the unrestrained right of Free Speech even when the speech directly compromises national security interests. Albeit no ruling has ever immunized someone who caused damage with speech from civil liability, there is no Prior Restraint on speech even when miscarriages of justice can be pointed to.

      To drive this point home, the late Christopher Hitchens yells fire in a theater: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyoOfRog1EM

      Politics front and center, it was cringe-worthy to see Meryl Streep wrestle with the dilemma of publishing the Pentagon Papers when in real life she never spoke up for the ladies who needed to be heard in Hollywood #SheKnew. Bob Ferguson knows there’s no prior restraint on Speech and it shows how little he respects us to use that myth to justify prior restraint on firearms.

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      1. If you can cite a Supreme Court opinion that precludes prosecution for “shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” I would be interested. That is not a prior restraint on speech, it is an example where you can be held accountable for certain consequences of speech. While much of the Schenck decision was overturned, I don’t believe this has been. Hitchens yells fire, but does not cause a panic, because of context. That makes all the difference. Most of what we see discounting Holmes statement omits the phrase “and causing a panic”.

        There are many examples of permissible prior restraint on speech, but I don’t want to get into the weeds on that point.

        Feguson’s point was that interpreting the Bill of Rights literally leads to misunderstanding. I wholeheartedly agree with that. The real meaning of the First and Second Amendments is very, very complex.

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        1. Fergusson is wrong, as interpreting the Bill of Rights literally, leads to understanding, not misunderstanding. This is why he is an activist, why hes a liability, maybe believing that the Constitution is a living-breathing document. Words have meaning, Original Intent is a foundation of law. Amend the Constitution if we want it to say or mean something else.

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        2. No case or law precludes prosecution. That’s not how law works. People sue McDonald’s for selling them food. We don’t live in a society of negative rights, which what Prior Restraint is.

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          1. This discussion has wandered too far astray. I’ll spare the bystanders and leave it at that.

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    5. If you believe that AG Bob Ferguson has been acting in a non-partisan, non-political manner. Ok then, I have a bridge over the rail tracks I would love to sell to you.

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    6. “Non-partisan” hahahahahaha. This is the guy who doesn’t even know the definition of ‘and’…as in the 405 tolls could only remain, BY LAW, after the trial period if they paid for themselves (they did) AND maintain 45mph average (they didn’t, and its actually getting worse). Sounds like somebody sided with SJW nutjobs at WSDOT and decided laws don’t matter.

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    7. I was the guy who asked the AG about the income taxes in Washington. My question was based on some research done and then asking 3 state senators and 5 representatives the same question and none in the legislative branch would respond. My question related to what I understood is law that has been settled by the Washington Supreme Court. “Income is defined as property and can be taxed at a uniform rate.” The AG referred me to his chief of staff and here is what I learned. My understanding is basically correct but politics are in play. One party does not want any from of income tax and the other party does not want the income taxed at a uniform rate but wants a graduated tax. He took my contact information and said he would check with is tax specialists.

      With the help of the AG’s office I now have a link to a legal opinion created for the legislature that back up my understanding of the law:

      https://www.atg.wa.gov/ago-opinions/constitutionality-income-tax

      If I get other insights from the AG office I will pass them along. It is disappointing that when asking members of the legislature they could not or would not help me. Four of the legislators without hesitation specifically gave me information in conflict the information found at the attached link. Were the deliberately misleading me or just not doing their complete job for a voter? I have an opinion but in this case the only opinion that matters is that of the AG’s office.

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    8. Mr. Haug, thank you for the information on this. Yes, your opinion does matter. With political and personal agendas, administrations goals sometimes produce results not in the best interests of citizens they are elected to help and serve. In my opinion, it is completely healthy to question everything in the political arena and look at the bigger picture.

      With election time here perhaps the names of the legislators and your experiences with each would help the voters.

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      1. Thanks Mr. Murdock, (you can call me Darrol) So here is my plan. Per the request of the AG I am doing a follow up questions he asked me to submit. I am hoping his office responds just like the AG said they would. I BELIEVE they will. But if they don’t we will then know politics are in play at the AG office and not what the AG said he would see got done. Given the response from the AG office I plan to email 4 of the legislators (one has retired) and ask some questions that will be easy for them to respond to and I will even give them the information from the AG office to help them answer my questions. My bet is they will not respond or if they do they will redefine the term “income tax” to be different than what is allowed in the current law. It will not be progressive enough and support the idea of income transfer thru taxation. As I get more REAL facts and have the exchange with the 4 legislators I will be happy to share their names and responses for others to see. I would rather stick to the facts and try to be part of the answer and not part of the problem. No direct or indirect reflection on anyone who comments on MEN just a statement of how we can all be working together and not just tossing grenades.

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    9. On an earlier post I offered to share any insights given by the AG on the question of “Can Income be treated as Property and therefore taxed at a uniformed rate?” In addition to the earlier help I asked for conformation of the understanding of the AG opinion on the link I posted earlier:
      https://www.atg.wa.gov/ago-opinions/constitutionality-income-tax

      I just receive a reply from the AG office which said in part: “There’s really not much I can add to your research or your analysis.
      To the extent that the Office of the Attorney General has weighed in, you have our analysis. The formal Attorney General Opinion you cite represents the legal opinion of the Attorney General’s Office. I’m not in a position to supplement or critique it.”

      That all means AG office has confirmed my understand of the AG formal opinion on taxing income. Yes income can be treated as property and can be taxed at a uniform rate.

      It is simply too bad the Senators and Reps I talked with before did not do the research to understand state law. Or if they had done the research they would have at lease confirmed my understanding of the law. I will contact them and let you know what they say. I am hopeful they will respond.

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    10. About a week ago I contacted the following members of the House and Senate:
      Maralyn Chase, Marko Liias, Strom Peterson, Lillian Ortiiz-Self about my research on Taxing Income in the State. I gave them detailed information from the AG office and asked for their comment. To date none of the candidate listed above have responded. It may be too early to conclude that they will not respond but it is beginning to look like I will not get a response.

      I think I might send the same information to their opponents to see if they will respond. Anyone have any ideas on how we can get our elected to talk with us?

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