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

The FBI says a Palm Springs, Calif., man accused of making threatening, obscene phone calls to the office of U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott  last month told authorities he never intended to hurt anyone.

KPLU/Bellamy Pailthorp

King County's inquest into the death of native woodcarver John T. Williams at the hands of a Seattle policeman is expected to last all week. The fact-finding work will review last August's shooting, and will determine whether prosecutors bring any charges against Officer Ian Birk.

TVW image

The state's newest Supreme Court justice was sworn in Friday afternoon. Charlie Wiggins defeated incumbent Justice Richard Sanders by just 13,000 votes in November's election. 

The Bainbridge Island attorney challenged Sanders, who had served three terms, and who was sometimes the center of controversy. 

Gene Johnson of the Associated Press covered today's swearing in, and the Wiggins-Sanders race last fall:

If you challenge a speeding ticket in traffic court, you’ve had a good chance of getting it thrown out in recent years.  That’s because prosecutors in western Washington have been cutting their budgets and prioritizing for bigger crimes. 

Prosecutors have been absent from traffic court for at least five years, according to The Seattle Times.  At the urging of presiding King County District Court judge Barbara Linde, that's changing. 

A victim of domestic violence can seek a restraining order against an abusive spouse.  But how about allowing a city to get a restraining order against a street gang?

In the new year, Washington state is raising taxes. But you'll need sharp eyes to notice where.  Lawmakers have hiked and expanded a telephone tax to support 911 service.

John Froschauer / AP

The amount of money the state pays out in lawsuits has doubled in the last four years to more than $50 million dollars a year. This spike in legal costs comes as Washington reduces funding for education, healthcare and other state services. But cutting Washington’s legal bills is no easy task.


A jury is recommending that a judge sentence a man and his son to death after they were convicted of planting a bomb that killed two Oregon police officers.

The jury's decisions in the case of 59-year-old Bruce Turnidge and 34-year-old Joshua Turnidge were read in a Salem courtroom Wednesday.

Prosecutors say the pair built and planted the bomb outside a Woodburn bank in 2008. The device exploded as state police bomb technician William Hakim tried to dismantle it, killing him and Woodburn police Capt. Tom Tennant.

Austin Jenkins / N3

Welfare dollars are supposed to help the poorest of families pay for the necessities of life. But Washington welfare recipients are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each month on ATM surcharges. That’s what correspondent Austin Jenkins found through a public disclosure request. The finding comes as Washington’s welfare program faces budget cuts. 

A hue and cry has erupted in response to Washington Governor Chris Gregoire’s proposal to slash billions more in anticipated state spending. The Democrat Wednesday unveiled her plan to close a $4.6 billion budget shortfall.

Chris Lehman / N3

Some Washington welfare recipients are withdrawing cash at out-of-state liquor stores, smoke shops and even strip clubs. That’s the finding of a public radio investigation into welfare debit card use outside Washington’s borders. The finding comes at a time when the state’s welfare program is $82 million in the red.


Slow down and move over.  That’s the message from the Washington State Patrol as a new law goes into effect.  It’s meant to better protect troopers and emergency workers who handle car accidents.  

Lawmakers hope they’ve taken a sizeable bite out of the state’s one-point-one billion dollar budget shortfall. The legislature met Saturday in what’s been called an unprecedented December special session. Governor Chris Gregoire demanded the lame-duck meeting saying she couldn’t solve the problem alone.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

The State Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of the state’s formula for calculating how much money school districts get for special education classes.

Russell Dickerson III (right) is suing the Aberdeen School District
Charla Bear

An African-American teen in Aberdeen is suing the city’s school district for not keeping him safe from bullying when he was a student.  He alleges administrators knew he endured racial and sexual harassment for years, but did little to stop it.

Governor Chris Gregoire says she will call a budget-cutting special session of the legislature before the year is out. As the state’s budget crisis worsens, the governor and lawmakers are looking to save money anywhere they can. One target in the crosshairs: lobbyists for state agencies.

Department of Homeland Security

Next time you walk into a Walmart store, you might see the head of the U-S Department of Homeland Security.  Secretary Janet Napolitano has recorded video messages that are being aired inside Walmart stores in 27 states, including Washington.

Seattle police are tweeting for stolen cars.  They’re using Twitter to get the word out whenever a theft is reported. Police say making use of the popular social networking site just makes sense. 

The mentally ill man charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of  Joseph LaMagno on Capitol Hill on Nov. 22 is a suspect in an earlier killing. 

Paula Wissel/KPLU

A lesbian flight nurse says she's anxiously waiting to rejoin her unit in the U.S. Air Force reserve.  Major Margaret Witt was discharged in 2004 under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Governor Chris Gregoire wants an agreement from Republican and Democratic lawmakers on a package of immediate cuts to the state's budget by the end of this week.

Three years ago Washington voters upheld the Insurance Fair Conduct Act. It allows triple damages when insurance companies are found to have unfairly denied a claim. At the time, the insurance industry warned premiums would skyrocket and lawyers would get rich. Has that happened? 

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Was there a breakdown of leadership in the 5th Stryker Brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord? That question is central to a month-old Army review that’s just now coming to light. It’s the latest development in the case against a dozen soldiers recently back from Afghanistan – including five who’ve been charged with murder.


Unionized prison employees will picket outside the Monroe prison this morning. They’re protesting budget cuts. The union has also filed a formal lawsuit.

Oregon license plate
Amy Groark / Flickr

The Washington State Patrol has revived a unit of officers to pursue a distinct class of lawbreakers: people living in the state who’ve retained license plates from Oregon or elsewhere.

US Army

Private First Class Andrew Holmes of Boise joined the Army the day he turned 18. That was two years ago. By his 19th birthday he was fighting in Afghanistan. But he turned 20 this past August locked-up in an Army brig in Western Washington.

FBI photo.

Does Seattle have more child prostitutes than other cities? During a three-day crackdown, the FBI picked up more young prostitutes in this area than anyplace else. But, there could be another reason for the high number.

The latest FBI sweep, called Operation Cross Country V, resulted in the arrest of 99 pimps. Agents also rescued 69 teenage prostitutes. Twenty-three of them were from our area, in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

WS History Museum

Today marks the 100th anniversary of a woman's right to vote in Washington State.  A day-long series of events is planned for  Olympia. The Washington State Historical Socety and the Women’s History Consortium have teamed up with  Secretary of State Sam Reed and the Interagency Committee for State Employed Women (ICSEW) on a full day of commemorative moments at the Temple of Justice (home of the State Supreme Court), the Capitol Building and Legislative buildings.

Flickr photo by Manuel W.

Three inmates have committed suicide in the King County jail in the past few weeks. The latest was a 33 year old man who died at Harborview Medical Center. The robbery suspect was found hanging in his cell on September 20.

The King County Correctional Facility has been cited in the past for failing to prevent suicide.

Back in 2007, the United States Department of Justice investigated the King County jail and issued a blistering report saying safety and health conditions were so substandard that they amounted to a violation of inmates civil rights.