Stories about law and politics in the Pacific Northwest, with many from KPLU's Law and Justice reporter, Paula Wissel.

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.

A federal appeals court has upheld California's deliberative death penalty, which keeps prisoners on death row for decades.

Last year, a federal judge ruled that the long and dysfunctional process violated the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

As we reported at the time:

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.

University of Washington's Center for Human Rights


The theft of a computer and hard-drive containing the names and stories of people who survived the war in El Salvador has human rights workers on edge. The break-in happened in Smith Hall, in the offices of the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights, or CHR.

A security breach at the Washington governor’s mansion on August 7, 2013 was more serious than first reported. Records obtained from the Washington State Patrol reveal the trespasser broke a window before he was arrested at gunpoint.

Noemie Maxwell

The deed that landed Paul Rivers in jail for the rest of his life wasn’t a murder, it was stealing $330 from an espresso stand in Seattle’s University District. It was his third felony under Washington’s three strikes law.

That was back in 1993. He was 21 years old. After more than two decades in prison Rivers said, "I am no longer a threat to society.

Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley has pleaded not guilty -- again. The indicted Democrat was arraigned Friday morning in federal court in Tacoma on a revised 17-count indictment.

People upset about the decision not to charge three Pasco, Washington, police officers after the fatal February shooting of Mexican orchard worker Antonio Zambrano-Montes are planning a vigil Thursday afternoon.

Three police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a rock-throwing man in Pasco, Washington, last February will not face criminal charges.

A three-year-old Washington state law that allows whistleblowers to bring Medicaid fraud lawsuits is working. That’s according to a review by legislative auditors that urges lawmakers to renew the law before it expires next year.

Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley faces additional charges of money laundering and tax evasion. The U.S. Attorney’s office announced the new charges Thursday afternoon.

Rachel La Corte / AP

The Washington Supreme Court has ruled a lawsuit against can move forward. The lawsuit alleges Backpage was complicit in the sex trafficking of minors.

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

The Olympia police officer who shot two African-American brothers during a confrontation in May will not be criminally charged.

That was the announcement Wednesday afternoon from Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim. He is charging the two brothers with assault on the officer.

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.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Ferrians

Amid the arts and crafts and concerts of Hempfest in Seattle this weekend, there will be one group of people delivering a somber message. Friends and family of Keaton Farris, the young man who died of dehydration and malnutrition in an Island County jail earlier this year, will hand out water bottles with his picture on the label as a way to raise awareness about the disturbing circumstances of his death.

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.

About two dozen gun retailers are located in Seattle. Opponents of the proposed tax on sales of firearms and ammunition say it would cause buyers and ultimately shops to go outside the city.
Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Seattle’s City Council will take aim at gun violence Monday with a vote on a pair of gun safety measures. One would tax sales of firearms and ammunition. The other would require owners to report lost or stolen guns.

City Council President Tim Burgess proposed the measures. The former Seattle police detective says firearms put an undue burden on communities.

“Gun violence begets gun violence,” Burgess said, “which is a huge problem in our city and frankly in our entire state. And we’re trying to take common sense, reasonable steps to address that.”   

He argues getting sellers to chip in to break the cycle of violence is one such step.

The revenue from the tax would be dedicated to prevention programs and research, such as was carried out in 2013 by doctors at Seattle’s Harborview Medical center, where last year alone, the city says the cost for treating victims of shootings totaled $17 million.

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.

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.

Jennifer Wing / KPLU



The King County Prosecutor’s office is sending a message to the operators of Medical Marijuana shops in unincorporated areas: Shut your business down or face serious consequences.


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.

AP Images

To much fanfare last week, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage and upheld Obamacare subsidies. But those decisions overshadowed another ruling – one that has Washington state legal aid lawyers cheering.

The case has to do with the Fair Housing Act, which aims to eliminate discrimination in housing. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said plaintiffs don’t have to prove intentional discrimination. Instead, they can use statistics to show that even neutral-sounding policies can have discriminatory effects.

WA State Dept. of Corrections

A federal court said it’s OK for Washington state to require that only women be allowed to guard female prisoners in certain situations. Male correctional officers had sued the state saying denying them access to those jobs was a violation of their civil rights.

This story began back in 2007 when women prisoners at Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor and Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair sued the Washington Department of Corrections alleging a pattern of sexual abuse by male correctional officers. 

AP Images

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has launched a criminal investigation into state auditor Troy Kelley. Kelley is already under a federal indictment for tax evasion and fraudulent practices related to his former real estate business.

Now, the state is looking into his hiring practices in the auditor’s office.  The state is investigating Kelley's hiring and employment of Jason JeRue, a long time business associate.

Simen Svale Skogsrud / Flickr

After sharp criticism from advocates for the homeless, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, Seattle's plan to ban smoking in public parks has been softened to reflect concerns it would unfairly target the homeless and minorities.

Under the new proposal from the Seattle Parks Department, a violator will get a warning for lighting up instead of a $27 fine. Two or more warnings could lead to an arrest. Using e-cigarettes and vape pens would still be allowed.