Judge says second recall petition against Snohomish County sheriff can proceed

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney

A judge has ruled that a second recall petition against Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney can move forward. Four local attorneys had filed this petition, alleging that Fortney violated his oath of office when he announced on Facebook in April that he would not enforce Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.

The judge’s ruling means that three additional recall charges against Fortney in this case can also proceed because he “incited the public to violate Inslee’s order,” he rehired three deputies fired by Fortney’s predecessor, and he did not investigate a white deputy who tackled and injured a black woman for jaywalking.

Fortney has not publicly responded to this ruling. But in reply to an earlier court ruling on another recall petition, the sheriff said: “I stand by my statement that the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office is not going to arrest people for a gross misdemeanor when they pray, go to church or express their views under the First Amendment.”

San Juan County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Loring heard the case on the second petition by telephone on Tuesday.  She is handling it to avoid any conflict of interest issues with Snohomish County judges.

Mark Lamb

Fortney’s attorney, Mark Lamb, argued that the sheriff had acted legally in all four instances. Fortney sparked the two recall campaigns when he used his Facebook campaign page to publish a letter critical of Inslee’s COVID-19 restrictions. In that Facebook post, the sheriff promised Snohomish county residents his deputies would not enforce the state restrictions; that he believes it is unconstitutional to arrest people for exercising their constitutional rights to run businesses, gather in groups and attend religious services. Lamb also told the judge that Fortney had told his staff “to focus on voluntary compliance and education.”

Colin McMahon

One of the attorneys who is leading the second recall team warned the court that Fortney’s actions “are attacks made on the rule of law, made by the very person who is charged with the duty of enforcing the law.”

That attorney is Colin McMahon, a public defender. “Think, for example, if a city puts up a speed limit sign, and says ‘the speed limit is 25 miles per hour,'” McMahon told the court, “and then the chief of police puts up another sign right behind that speed limit sign saying, ‘None of our officers are going to enforce this speed limit.’ What’s the result going to be?”

In her ruling, Judge Loring rejected Fortney’s position that he was exercising his official discretion, pointing out that in his statement the sheriff wrote that he refused to enforce the governor’s order at all.

San Juan County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Loring

According to a source close to the case who requested anonymity, Fortney may appeal part of Judge Loring’s ruling, claiming that two of the charges against him – rehiring fired deputies and not investigating claims of a deputy assault – do not meet the legal criteria for recall. If he does appeal, next stop would be State Supreme Court. That could delay any recall action for another month.

Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell has already said the county will not pay for Fortney’s defense. Cornell said that Fortney’s public statements and Facebook page posts “do not warrant a defense at public expense.”

In April, Monroe resident Lori Shavlik drafted the first recall petition, charging that the sheriff “used his position as an elected official to encourage citizens to defy the law.” Three weeks ago, Shavlik’s effort got the go-ahead from another judge. Right now, the two groups continue to work separately on their own recalls.

If both recall groups defeat an appeal, they would have six months to gather nearly 45,000 signatures to get each measure on the ballot. If a recall election happens, it could come late this year or early in 2021.

— By Bob Throndsen

6 Replies to “Judge says second recall petition against Snohomish County sheriff can proceed”

  1. Let’s review. The prior Democrat Sheriff and Prosecutor declined to enforce all drug laws of the state. No recall but, former Sheriff lost election. New Sheriff Fortney says he will not arrest people for violating Governors orders to not run their businesses. Has anyone in any county been arrested? No. This all smacks of sour grapes by the election losers.

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    1. Well put, Mr. Bucklin.
      Our elections are intended to be decided at the ballot box, NOT in the courts. If it can be proven that Adam Fortney has, in fact, violated his oath, we should vote him out. If he has broken any existing laws, then he should be charged with such. Until then, these differences of opinion should have no bearing on his official duties, which he was chosen to do by a majority of the voting citizens of Snohomish County. These other parties appear to be “outside their lanes” and/or abusing the legal system instead of observing the electoral process, all the while using department personnel issues and an expired emergency order in place of actual malfeasance. To these people, I encourage you to rethink your cause and to stop wasting public time and money.

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      1. From the state constitution:”Grounds for recall are acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office or violation of oath of office.”
        Thanks in advance to the first registered Snohomish County voter who will provide a specific violation of oath or code (as well as supporting evidence) whereby Mr. Fortney should be recalled.
        I’m sure that most of the adults here would agree that neither hiring decisions nor a response to an unduly extended (and randomly applied) executive order would qualify for the debate.
        This is a sincere attempt to reach serious people who believe in the electoral process (recall petitions included) and not have the results overturned by a noisy minority without good cause.

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        1. The executive order was within the authority of the of the governors power. Thereby making making it the responsibility of the elected and appointed law enforcement officials to uphold. It was challenged in the courts by a “noisy minority” and found to be in accordance with our state constitution. His own words re-enforce that “As your elected Sheriff I will always put your constitutional rights above politics or popular opinion,”. Nobody has the constitutional right to choose which laws they apply to them and which laws don’t. “prosecuting attorneys and sheriffs carry a unique responsibility in our criminal justice system to serve as bulwarks to a civil society. Put simply, we are elected to serve under the laws not to act above them.” – Adam Cornell elected Snohomish county Prosecutor. He also pointed out “State and local emergency proclamations are binding on all of us whether we agree with them or not.” So if you disagree or agree with Inslee is beside the point, as governor we gave him the authority to make those decisions by the will of the popular vote of the State of Washington. Therefore if enough people sign on for a recall VOTE then it will get put on the ballot for the people to decide. I don’t know how I vote on a recall I may vote in favor of it as his actions endangered the lives of those he was sworn in to protect ( in the initial election I voted for him). In this country NOBODY is or should be above or beyond the law and as the people we must hold ALL of our elected officials accountable.

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  2. These news articles consistently leave out the fact that the 2nd recall campaign has 2 other charges against Adam Fortney: That he rehired 3 deputies who were previously investigated and FIRED for MISCONDUCT (including, in one case, a fatal shooting that was ruled to be unjustified), and that he failed to investigate a deputy sheriff who tackled and injured a black female medical assistant for jaywalking, held her in jail for an entire day, and then had her banned from public transit (she was running to catch the bus to work, with headphones on, when she was tackled and then accused of “ignoring” the deputy’s order to stop, which she could not hear). Even if you disagree with the counts against him regarding the stay at home order, there are plenty of other reasons that he was determined to have “endangered the peace and safety of the community and violated his statutory duties under the law.”

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