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In re Recall Petition of Ritter

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

September 12, 2019

In the Matter of the Recall Petition of JILL RITTER, Respondent.

          STEPHENS, J.

         Two voters in the city of Tonasket, Washington, filed a recall petition, seeking to remove respondent Jill Ritter from her position on the Tonasket City Council. As detailed below, the Okanogan County Superior Court determined all six of the allegations in the petition were insufficient to warrant a recall election. One of the two petitioners, appellant Brenda Jones, sought review in this court. We affirm the superior court's dismissal of all six charges.

         BACKGROUND

         The recall petition alleges that Councilwoman Ritter committed the following acts of misconduct warranting her recall:

1. Attempted influence over a Tonasket Police Officer's investigation of her relative's son;
2. Improperly questioning the Chief of Police about the same Tonasket Police Officer's investigation under the guise of a budget meeting;
3. Improperly obtaining a key to and entering the Tonasket Police Department with the Mayor to obtain and review Personnel Files and to install cameras within the Police Department;
4. Falsely and publicly claiming a Tonasket Police Officer was on a Brady [1] list; and lying about verifying this claim;
5. Conspiring to disband the Tonasket Police Department in favor of a contract for police services with the Okanogan County Sheriff; and compromising the integrity of investigative materials and evidence in the process; and
6. Improperly withholding public records.

         Clerk's Papers (CP) at 16.

         In addition to the recall petition, the trial court considered several declarations submitted by petitioner Jones, Diane MacGregor-Foreman, Jose Perez, John Cruz, Darin Odegaard, and Brittany Wilson. It also considered declarations from respondent Ritter, as well as from Michael Howe and Alice Attwood. After a hearing, the trial court dismissed all six charges, finding them factually and legally insufficient to sustain further action. Jones sought review in this court, assigning error to the trial court's rulings on every charge. Appellant's Br. (App. Br.) at 1.

         ANALYSIS

         A voter who seeks to recall an elected official must charge that the official "committed an act or acts of malfeasance, or an act or acts of misfeasance while in office, or has violated the oath of office." RCW 29A.56.110. The statute defines these terms:

(1) "Misfeasance" or "malfeasance" in office means any wrongful conduct that affects, interrupts, or interferes with the performance of official duty;
(a) Additionally, "misfeasance" in office means the performance of a duty in an improper manner; and
(b) Additionally, "malfeasance" in office means the commission of an unlawful act;
(2) "Violation of the oath of office" means the neglect or knowing failure by an elective public officer to perform faithfully ...

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