Last week on KUOW, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna defended his refusal to comply with Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark’s lawful request for legal counsel, repeatedly describing an appeal to a lower court ruling as “meritless.”
“The trial record didn’t suggest any basis for appeal,” McKenna told KUOW’s Steve Scher. “We don’t take up appeals that lack legal merit … and this one does not have merit.”
Even when a caller pointed out that the Superior Court judge suggested the case was a toss up that should be settled on appeal, McKenna stuck to his guns, insisting that there was nothing to that effect in the judge’s “written order.”
And to a point, McKenna is correct: there is nothing to this effect in the written order. But what the caller was referring to were the oral statements given from the bench in which Judge Jack Burchard laid out “the Court’s reasonings,” an unofficial transcript of which I have finally obtained. And Judge Burchard couldn’t be any clearer in his introduction:
The parties will eventually present an order on summary judgment but usually these orders don’t contain the Court’s reasoning, and the Court doesn’t make findings of fact on summary judgment because summary judgment is reviewed by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court de novo, from the beginning, so they don’t really take account of what my view is. And probably most of us know and believe that this won’t be the final stop for this decision. I believe this Court’s job is to make a decision as best I can and do my part in the process.
The emphasis is mine, but the meaning is clear. It’s hard to imagine that Judge Burchard would express the opinion that “probably most of us know and believe that this won’t be the final stop for this decision,” if he believed the grounds for an appeal to be meritless. Likewise, reading through the 13-page transcript, it’s equally clear that Judge Burchard didn’t consider this to be a cut and dry case.
“I believe this Court’s job is to make a decision as best I can and do my part in the process.” And that’s what Judge Burchard did, with the full expectation that the next part of the process would be an appeal.
So not only is McKenna being disingenuous when he repeatedly asserts that the appeal lacks merit, he intentionally deceives Scher and his listeners by pointing to the written order rather than Judge Burchard’s lengthy oral exposition from the bench. McKenna was fully aware of Judge Burchard’s oral statements, and thus fully aware that they weren’t included in the written order.
A clever, lawyerly distinction, for sure. But it’s also just plain dishonest.