Monday, March 31, 2008

Attorney General Rob McKenna's March 2008 "Must Read" Report

March 2008


It’s been nothing short of an extraordinary month here at the Attorney General’s Office. We had a productive 2008 Legislative Session, our high-tech unit tracked down another spyware bandit, we received national recognition for excellence in government technology and, of course, we won the Top-Two Primary case!

Citizens’ Victory: Top-Two Primary Reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court
On March 18th, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Washington’s top-two primary by a 7-2 vote, reinstating the wide-open primary system that voters overwhelming approved in 2004. The State has been enjoined from implementing the top-two primary since shortly after it was enacted. Washington has conducted a pick-a-party primary since September 2004, which requires voters to affiliate with one of the major political parties and limit their primary voting to that party’s slate of candidates. Washington will conduct its first top-two primary this August, allowing voters to choose their favorite candidate for each office without being limited to one party. The top two vote getters will advance to the general election, regardless of party. In the Supreme Court decision, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that overturning the top-two initiative would be an “extraordinary and precipitous nullification of the will of the people." Having personally argued this case before the Court last October 1st, I couldn’t agree more.

Legislators Adopts AGO Bills to Protect Communities and Strengthen Consumer ProtectionWe’ve also been celebrating the Legislature’s passage of some important new laws that we wrote and requested. Our bills assist victims of ID theft, target mortgage foreclosure “rescue” scams, shut down spyware, protect the privacy of cell phone numbers and provide shared leave benefits to victims of domestic violence. We were disappointed that, after passing the House with overwhelming support, the Senate failed to vote on our bill that would have made viewing child pornography a felony, and given law enforcement greater ability to investigate child pornography crimes. This request was an important recommendation of our Youth Internet Safety Task Force’s law enforcement group, and we will pursue it again in 2009.

We also will again pursue legislation recommended by my Eminent Domain Task Force, focusing on protecting private property owners from broad application of the state’s “community renewal” redevelopment law and supporting Rep. Springer’s bill that would provide private owners a right of first refusal to buy back their property when government takes it but then auctions it without putting it to a public use (as the Seattle Monorail Authority did, many times). Click here for more information on these bills.

New Division Formed to Handle Increasing AGO Criminal Justice Caseloads Also in March, in response to the growing size and complexity of our criminal justice caseloads, we reorganized our Criminal Justice Division and formed a new Corrections Division. The new division serves the Department of Corrections, Indeterminate Sentence Review Board, Washington State Patrol, Governor’s Clemency and Pardons Board, and the Governor’s Office on extraditions and detainers. It also responds to habeas corpus petitions by prisoners in the state system. The Division is led by Tim Lang and is based in Olympia.

The Criminal Justice Division includes the Criminal Litigation Unit, which prosecutes cases at the request of county prosecutors and the Governor, the Sexually Violent Predator Unit, the Homicide Investigation and Tracking System Unit (HITS) and the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Lana Weinmann leads the Division from our Seattle office. Lana and her colleagues will continue to work closely with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

AGO Makes National “Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers” listThis list was created in 2002 by media company Government Technology to showcase the work of public-sector professionals from around the country who have strived to implement change while overcoming obstacles such as tight budgets and politics. A few weeks ago, the company honored my work on identity theft, spyware and related high-tech crimes. Andy Hill, our Information Services Director, was separately honored for his efforts in creating a standard by which Washington could manage digital records. Our office-wide vision is to be the best public law office in America, and receiving recognition like this underscores the national reputation we have acquired for innovation and leadership.

National Sunshine Week.
Once again this year, I was very active with National Sunshine Week activities, promoting the importance of open and accountable government through robust public records and open public meetings laws. I served on the Washington Coalition for Open Government’s Sunshine Week Panel with Auditor Brian Sonntag, Secretary of State Sam Reed and House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, among others, and teamed up with Sonntag and Kessler on a bill requiring audio taping of executive (closed) sessions of public bodies that are required to hold public meetings.

Looking Ahead
In April, we’ll be launching another Guard It! Washington tour to educate citizens and businesses across the state about identity theft. Last year’s tour was a huge success, and I’m looking forward to hitting the streets once more to engage as many communities as possible in the fight against identity theft. Also, we’ll be releasing the findings of our Gas Price study in a few weeks. Meanwhile, more information on these and many more AGO issues and cases can be found on our new website which was recognized last summer as the best in the west by the Conference of Western Attorneys General.

Rob McKenna
Attorney General