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9th Circuit Court OKs release of R-71 names
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9th Circuit Court OKs release of R-71 names

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

[Editor's note: At press time Protect Marriage Washington announced an appeal to the full Circuit Court of Appeals.]

A 3-member panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday, October 15, that Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed may release the names of voters who signed the petitions to put Referendum 71 on the ballot.

US District Court Judge Benjamin Settle had issued a preliminary injunction on September 10, preventing the release of the names.

While Settle ruled that releasing the names would violate the 1st Amendment rights of the signers, the 9th Circuit panel held that his decision "relies on an incorrect legal standard and, therefore, must be reversed."

Protect Marriage Washington, the conservative group that sponsored the R-71 petition drive, sued Reed and his Public Records Officer Brenda Galarza to prevent them from releasing the names to Gay blogger Brian Murphy. Murphy had planned to post them on his site whosigned.org.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna is charged with representing Reed in the case.

"We believe the names of those who sign referenda and initiatives are public record and the state has a history of releasing this information," McKenna said. "We intend to vigorously defend our public records law in this matter as well."

Washington Families Standing Together, the Approve Referendum 71 Campaign organization, was not a party to the suit.

Although the names of petition signers may now be released, they will not be released immediately, however.

In a case brought by I-1033 sponsor Tim Eyman, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks issued a temporary restraining order on October 14 preventing the release of any petitions for 11 state initiatives until the 9th Circuit panel could rule.

Janelle Guthrie, spokesperson for Attorney General Rob McKenna, told SGN that an emergency motion to lift Hicks' order for the R-71 petitions would be filed before 5:00 p.m. Thursday.

"There could be a chance that the judge will not make a decision today," she cautioned. "Their attorney is out of town, and the judge may delay until he gets back."

In a statement released soon after getting the news from Deputy Solicitor General Bill Collins, who argued the case before the 9th Circuit panel, Reed announced that he was "delighted" with the ruling.

"The emphasis is that Washington state government is open, transparent, and the people of this state have adopted this strong Public Records Act," he said. "I'm glad the 9th Circuit has upheld what we have been saying. These petitions are not like a secret ballot, but amount to taking part in our legislative process, which is required to be open and accountable."

State Elections Director Nick Handy added, "The winner here is open government."

Guthrie said the Attorney General's office was "pleased that the 9th Circuit agreed with our arguments with respect to the state's public records law."

Washington Families Standing Together Campaign Manager Josh Friedes told SGN that "we believe the court's decision is correct. It's important to protect the integrity of the initiative and referendum process and the only way to protect against fraud and forgery is to make the names public."

"It would be a mistake to post the names," Friedes warned. "I think it would lead to negative conversations, and the public would view it as mean-spirited."

Attorney Stephen Pidgeon, who represented Protect Marriage Washington in the hearings, did not return SGN's call for comment by press time.

Whosigned.org's Murphy was also unavailable for comment.

The three 9th Circuit judges who heard the case promised that "an opinion setting forth the reasons for the court's reversal of the Preliminary Injunction Order shall be issued expeditiously and in due course."

The 13 US Circuit Courts are the intermediate appellate courts in the federal judiciary system. Appeals of Circuit Court decisions would be heard by the US Supreme Court.

The 9th Circuit Court covers nine states containing about 20% of the US population, and has the largest caseload of all the Circuit Courts.

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