Paula Wissel

Law & Justice Reporter

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KPLU since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KPLU, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.

Paula's most memorable moment at KPLU: “Interviewing NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr about his ability to put current events in historical context. It’s something I aspire to.”

Ways to Connect

Anthony Bopp

A transgender Seattle man has won his battle against an insurance company over his medical treatment. Anthony Bopp, who works in the produce section at a local QFC grocery store, has health coverage through Sound Health and Wellness Trust, but the insurer has been refusing to pay for routine treatment Bopp needs.

Paula Wissel / KPLU

In the late 1960s and early '70s, all sorts of underground newspapers had emerged from the counterculture and antiwar movements. Most of them weren’t actually all that underground, since there wasn’t much risk involved in publishing or distributing them.

But if you were in the military and you wanted to publish stories that strayed from the company line, you could get in serious trouble. That led in part to something called the GI underground movement.

Paula Wissel

In Seattle’s City Council races, incumbents are all leading, including the city’s first socialist council member Kshama Sawant. Council President Tim Burgess, as well as council members Sally Bagshaw, Bruce Harrell and Mike OBrien, appear to be winning handily. Sawant’s race for Seattle City Council District 3 is closer.

Nicholas K. Geranios / AP

More than 20 years ago, a drive-by shooting outside Ballard High School in Seattle left 16-year-old Melissa Fernandes dead. The perpetrator, Brian Ronquillo, also a teenager, was sent to prison for more than 50 years.

Now, the state Court of Appeals says the killer’s age should have been considered. It is another sign that courts are giving more weight to teenage brain development.

Photo by David Ellifrit/ / Center for Whale Research

Keep your eyes peeled for killer whales. The orca pods that spend the summer in the San Juan Islands are expected to show up in Puget Sound any moment now. That’s according to the Orca Network, which tracks the killer whales via a network of volunteer spotters.

Paula Wissel

It is hard to miss the gentrification taking place in Seattle’s Central District. Walk around the neighborhood and you see modest houses being torn down to make way for pricey condos and upscale businesses going in.

Jasperdo / Flkr Creative Commons

The American Civil Liberties Union says an eastern Washington county is operating a modern day debtors’ prison in violation of both the United States and Washington State Constitutions.  The ACLU of Washington and the law firm of Terrell Marshall Law Group filed a class-action lawsuit against Benton County, which includes the towns of Richland and Kennewick.

Paula WIssel

Sex trafficking of minors and others coerced into prostitution is only possible when there is a market. According to the advocacy group Businesses Ending Slavery & Trafficking, one way to stem that demand is to get workplaces involved.

photograph provided by Washington's Office of the Secretary of State

Most people do not spend a lot of time thinking about our state constitution.  But, perhaps they should. Recent Washington Supreme Court decisions, including one about charter schools, show how this 126-year-old document still affects our lives.

KPLU Law and Justice Reporter Paula Wissel talks with with University of Washington law professor Hugh Spitzer. He co-wrote what many consider the definitive book on the state constitution.

Paula Wissel

Hundreds of supporters waved as Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in downtown Seattle today. As the motorcade zipped by on the way to the Westin Hotel, Tony Zhao held up a giant red flag with five yellow stars on it.

He was not the only one waving a Chinese flag. Some well-wishers held the red flag in one hand and the American flag in the other.

Paula Wissel

Replacing aging bridges and re-paving major arterials are two things a Seattle levy on this year’s ballot promises to do.  Seattle Proposition 1 would put $930 million into transportation projects over the next 9 years.  It's a replacement, of sorts, for Seattle's Bridging the Gap levy, which is expiring. However, the new property tax measure will cost homeowners more than the old one did.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a lawsuit Wednesday against the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractors over worker safety at Hanford. We bring you this Q&A from our Tri-Cities correspondent Anna King.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

More information has been made public about the mindset of the killer in the days leading up to last year’s deadly shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.

Five people died, including the shooter, on October 24, 2014. One student was seriously wounded.  All were friends of the killer, Jaylen Fryberg.

In response to public records requests, investigators have released  1400 pages of the police investigation, conducted by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team. The documents detail the chilling messages Jaylen Fryberg sent to his family and friends shortly before pulling out a gun in the school cafeteria.

Paula Wissel

Could Marysville-Pilchuck High School have done more to prevent the deadly shooting there last year? The attorney representing the victim's families says it's possible. 

Brian Cox / City of Tacoma

The City of Tacoma has launched a program to improve the relationship between police and the community. Project Peace will involve a series of meetings to be held over the next several months. The plan is that, with the help of facilitators, people will sit down with police and brainstorm how best to improve trust.

Seth Perlman / AP Photo

Gun rights organizations, including the National Rifle Association, are suing the city of Seattle over its new tax on guns and ammo. The tax amounts to $25 for each firearm sold in the city, plus 5 cents for every round of ammunition. The groups say the tax violates Washington state law.

Bellevue, Washington-based Second Amendment foundation is one of the groups suing. Spokesman Dave Workman says the problem with Seattle’s tax on ammunition and guns is it violates Washington’s preemption law.

Paula Wissel

Some of those giant ads on buildings in downtown Seattle may be coming down. The city sued outdoor advertising company, Total Outdoor,  charging it with violating the city’s sign ordinance.

Now, a settlement has been reached.

Seattle’s sign ordinance is a decade old and is meant to help beautify the city by limiting billboards. The city contended Total Outdoor defied the law by marketing space on the sides of buildings to corporate clients, such as Apple and T-Mobile.

Her husband was murdered. Now, in a stranger-than-fiction twist, the killer is suing her from prison for causing him emotional distress. The lawsuit of Washington Department of Corrections inmate Larry Shandola against Paula Henry goes to court in Tacoma on Friday.

Paula Wissel

Seattle wants to shut down all of the hookah lounges in the city because of ongoing violence near the clubs. The most recent example was the murder of Donnie Chin, a well-liked community figure in Seattle’s International District. But, club owners say it’s unfair to punish them for what happens outside their establishments.

Paula Wissel

Seattle is making it easier to track development projects in the booming city. An interactive online map on the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) website lets users click on any current permitted building project. There are more than 100 in just the downtown area.

A click on one of the blue dots brings up every document tied to a particular project, from the mitigation being done for building on a steep slope to the construction timeline to architectural renderings.

Erin Hennessey / KPLU

Seattle, Tacoma and Everett have activated their water shortage response plans. The hot, dry weather has increased demand for water just as river levels are at historic lows. Seattle Public Utilities, Tacoma Public Utilities and the city of Everett issued a joint  release announcing the implementation of the first stage of the response plans.

Paula Wissel

Seattle’s Central District has long been the hub of the city’s African American community -- in part because until the late 1960’s, racist housing covenants and redlining prevented most blacks from living elsewhere in the city.

Even after fair housing laws were passed, the area continued to have the largest percentage of African Americans. Now, long-time residents say they are being forced out by gentrification. And they worry about what is being lost. 

Mike McKenney

Imagine spending a year getting ready to open a new business only watch the business become illegal at the eleventh hour.

That’s the case for Seattle pot entrepreneur Mike McKenney.

McKenney had everything in place for his private cannabis club, including warehouse space in Seattle’s SODO district. He’d decided that the club, to be called ZERO, would be solely for marijuana use.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Gun shop owners in Seattle say a proposed tax on sales could force them to move or go out of business. The Seattle City Council is considering placing a $25 tax on every gun sold and a 5-cent tax on every round of ammunition purchased in the city.

The money from the guns and ammo tax would be used to pay for gun violence research and prevention, which would be conducted at Harborview Medical Center. 

City officials estimate the new tax would collect between $300,000 and $500,000 a year. But, at a city council hearing, bun shop customer Ken Stok, said the measure is unlikely to bring in much money at all.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

There won’t be private cannabis clubs in Washington anytime soon. State lawmakers outlawed the establishment of such clubs, places where people could go to legally use marijuana. The ban caught legal pot advocates by surprise.

In the waning days of the Washington legislative session,  an amendment  banning cannabis clubs was added to a bill, House Bill 2136, meant to tweak the laws regarding the state’s fledgling legal marijuana industry.

Among other things, House Bill 2136 simplified taxes on marijuana, moving to a single point of sale tax, and loosened the restrictions on the location of pot businesses.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he will contribute $30 million toward a nationwide program to hire low income 16-to-24-year olds. 

Paula Wissel

One year ago, Cannabis City owner James Lathrop stood outside his Seattle store, one of the first to sell legal recreational marijuana in Washington, and declared “free the weed.”

A year later, he says his pot business has had its highs and lows.

John Froschauer / AP Photo

It’s illegal to set off fireworks in Tacoma, Seattle and most other cities in the region. But, every 4th of July, so many people ignore the law there’s little police can do. They say calling 911 about violations just overwhelms the emergency system.

Paula Wissel

The state is cracking down on handicapped parking abuse. Beginning tomorrow, July 1st, you’ll need a doctor’s prescription in order to get a disabled parking placard. It was rampant misuse and abuse of disabled parking permits that prompted the Washington state legislature to act.

In Seattle, a 2013 auditor’s report showed a loss of $1.4 million a year in parking meter fees due to people cheating the system.

Under the new state law, according to Department of Licensing spokesman David Bennett, penalties for cheating are tougher. 

“Illegally obtaining  or selling a special parking placard is now a gross misdemeanor instead of an infraction,” Bennett said.

Meaning, you could face criminal charges and a fine of $250 dollars.

Paula Wissel

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says the solution to disjointed planning in Seattle is to create a new city office to deal with the city's booming growth.  At a news conference, Murray signed an executive order creating a new Office of Planning and Community Development.