Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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Jared Karstetter worked for labor organizations representing King County, Washington corrections officers for over 20 years. In 1987, Karstetter began working directly for the King County Corrections Officers Guild (Guild). Throughout his employment with the Guild, Karstetter operated under successive 5-year contracts that provided for just cause termination. Eventually, Karstetter formed his own law firm and worked primarily for the Guild. He offered services to at least one other client. His employment contracts remained substantially the same. Karstetter's wife, Julie, also worked for the Guild as Karstetter's office assistant. In 2016, the King County ombudsman's office contacted Karstetter regarding a whistleblower complaint concerning parking reimbursements to Guild members. The Guild's vice-president directed Karstetter to cooperate with the investigation. The Guild sought advice from an outside law firm, which advised the Guild to immediately terminate Karstetter. In April 2016, the Guild took this advice and, without providing the remedial options listed in his contract, fired Karstetter. In response, Karstetter and his wife filed suit against the Guild, alleging, among other things, breach of contract and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. The Guild moved to dismiss the suit for failure to state a claim. The trial court partially granted the motion but allowed Karstetter's claims for breach of contract and wrongful termination to proceed. On interlocutory review, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case, directing the trial court to dismiss Karstetter's remaining breach of contract and wrongful termination claims. The Washington Supreme Court found that “the evolution in legal practice has uniquely affected the in-house attorney employee and generated unique legal and ethical questions unlike anything contemplated by our Rules of Professional Conduct (RPCs).” In this case, the Court found in-house employee attorneys should be treated differently from traditional private practice lawyers under the RPCs. “Solely in the narrow context of in-house employee attorneys, contract and wrongful discharge suits are available, provided these suits can be brought without violence to the integrity of the attorney-client relationship.”Karstetter alleged legally cognizable claims and pleaded sufficient facts to overcome a CR 12(b)(6) motion of dismissal. The Court of Appeals' ruling was reversed. View "Karstetter v. King County Corr. Guild" on Justia Law

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The Yakima County clerk was ordered by a superior court judge to procure a supplemental bond to maintain her elected office. The court warned that failure to comply would result in the court declaring the office vacant. The clerk sought a writ of prohibition from the Washington Supreme Court to prevent enforcement of the superior court's order. The Supreme Court denied the writ: the superior court judge did not exceed the court's jurisdiction by issuing the supplemental bond order; the clerk could have availed herself of "a plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law - an injunction. Thus, prohibition will not lie." View "Riddle v. Elofson" on Justia Law

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This case concerned a recent law school graduate's application to sit for the Washington State Bar Examination. Tarra Denelle Simmons had a history involving long-term substance abuse, multiple criminal convictions, and two bankruptcies. However, in the approximately five and a half years preceding her application to sit for the bar exam, Simmons successfully engaged in treatment for her substance abuse and childhood trauma. She maintained her sobriety since September 2011 and was not accused of any criminal or unethical behavior since then. The Washington Supreme Court found Simmons was entirely candid about her past when she applied to sit for the summer 2017 bar exam, and she readily provided further information as requested by counsel for the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA). Bar counsel referred Simmons' application to the WSBA Character and Fitness Board (Board), which recommended by a vote of six to three that Simmons' application be denied. The Supreme Court then reviewed her application and the Board's recommendation, heard oral argument, and granted Simmons' application in a unanimous order later that day. In this opinion, the Washington Court explained the reasons for its decision. View "In Bar Application of Simmons" on Justia Law

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Former clients sued their attorneys for legal malpractice based, in part, on the attorneys' withdrawal from a prior ease. But the attorneys obtained that withdrawal by court order. In the original case, the former clients appealed the court's order approving withdrawal, and that appeal was rejected. The attorneys thus argued collateral estoppel applied to bar a malpractice action based on their withdrawal. The Washington Supreme Court agreed: withdrawal by court order in an earlier proceeding was dispositive in a later malpractice suit against the attorney. Although other malpractice complaints unrelated to the withdrawal would not be precluded, a client cannot relitigate whether the attorney's withdrawal was proper. “If we are to have rules permitting attorney withdrawal, we must allow attorneys to have confidence in those rules.” View "Schibel v. Eymann" on Justia Law

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While employed as a physician at Quincy Valley Medical Center (QVMC), Gaston Cornu-Labat was the subject of several complaints that raised doubts as to his competency to practice medicine. QVMC conducted two investigations that ended after the charges against Dr. Cornu-Labat were not substantiated. Nevertheless, QVMC requested that Dr. Comu-Labat be psychologically evaluated and ended the doctor's employment when he failed to consult the recommended provider. Dr. Cornu-Labat filed a Public Records Act (PRA) request asking for records related to the hospital's investigations. QVMC claimed the documents were exempt from disclosure. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Dr. Cornu-Labat, holding none of the PRA exemptions invoked by QVMC applied. The court concluded that the records of a peer review committee that contained nonphysicians could not qualify for the exemption. Upon review, the Supreme Court determined that was error. The Court remanded because questions of material fact remained as to whether the records at issue were prepared for a regularly constituted peer review body. Further, questions remained as to whether any records were generated during a confidential meeting of agents of the QVMC board concerning Dr. Cornu-Labat's clinical or staff privileges. View "Cornu-Labat v. Hosp. Dist. No. 2 of Grant County" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Albert Ugas and Daniel Fishburn filed a recall petition against Respondent Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, charging him with misfeasance and/or malfeasance and breach of his oath of office. Petitioners alleged that Mr. Lindquist failed to investigate alleged corruption and falsification of records by a former county assessor-treasurer. Additionally, Petitioners contended that Mr. Lindquist obstructed justice by deterring law enforcement from investigating the assessor-treasurer. The lower court dismissed Petitioners' affidavit of prejudice and held that the recall petition was legally and factually insufficient. The court awarded Mr. Lindquist $50,000 in attorney fees for Petitioners' intentionally filing a frivolous recall petition in bad faith. Petitioners argued on appeal that their recall petition was legally and factually sufficient and that they should not have been ordered to pay attorney fees. Upon review of the petition and the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision. View "In re Recall of Lindquist" on Justia Law