October 4, 2013 at 6:22 PM
Judge tosses lawsuit, fines plaintiffs who accused No on I-522 campaign of violations
A Thurston County judge today dismissed a lawsuit filed against the No on I-522 campaign and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and slapped the plaintiffs who’d brought the case with a fine.
Initiative 522, which is on the November ballot, would require the labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients. Opponents of the measure have raised more than $17.2 million, the most ever raised to defeat an initiative in the state.
Last month, a group of I-522 supporters called Moms for Labeling, filed a lawsuit alleging the initiative opponents were illegally failing to disclose who was funding the ‘No’ campaign. The lawsuit said the grocery association was acting as a political committee to solicit and “launder” money from big-business interests whose identities were being illegally concealed from voters.
But that lawsuit was tossed today by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wickham, who ruled the lawsuit was filed prematurely without abiding by a mandatory 45-day waiting period for such claims.
The judge also fined the plaintiffs $10,000 and ordered them to pay the defendants’ attorneys fees under an anti-SLAPP law originally meant to shield citizens from harassing corporate lawsuits.
In a statement, Dana Bieber, a spokeswoman for the No on 522 campaign called the case “a frivolous and baseless lawsuit brought for no other reason than to try to generate media headlines in the heat of a political campaign.”
Wickham said he was not ruling on the merits of the underlying lawsuit but said the law was clear on the timing issue.
Knoll Lowney, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said it was absurd to fine his clients under a law meant to protect regular people from corporate lawsuits. He noted the lawsuit could have been filed with no problems if they’d waited until Oct. 17. But Lowney said that would have been too late to get the donor information before voters.
Lowney predicted his clients would ultimately prevail, either be refiling a similar lawsuit after Oct. 17, or by convincing Attorney General Bob Ferguson to intervene with a similar claim, as he is allowed to under state law.
“We think when the facts come out, ultimately somebody is going to change their mind on this,” he said.
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