People, places, and the planet all deserve a good lawyer.
Court rejects attempt to stifle public vote on urban renewal spending:
The matter of Williams v. Riggs, Clackamas County Case No. 16CV01310.
WLG client John Williams has long been a good-government activist. So it was no surprise when, in 2015, he submitted an initiative petition to let voters weigh in on the future of a controversial urban renewal program. What was surprising, though, was how the local elections officer handled the initiative process.
After the local elections officer initially approved his ballot measure petition, Mr. Williams spent eight months gathering signatures to get his proposed measure in front of the voters. And he was succeeding. Then in 2016, out of nowhere, but apparently motivated by political opponents of the measure, the local elections officer sent Mr. Williams a certified letter revoking his permission to circulate the measure for signatures.
WLG attorney Jesse Buss filed suit on behalf of Mr. Williams, challenging the abrupt reversal as unlawful and inconsistent with the mandatory elections timeframes governed by Oregon statute, ORS 250.270(1). This was a new issue for Oregon courts. Put simply, WLG argued that the elections officer did not have the authority to change her mind eight months after approving the initiative for circulation.
Siding with Mr. Williams, the court agreed that the elections officer had exceeded her authority, and ordered the initiative to be placed back on track. The court also awarded Mr. Williams his attorney fees for defending the integrity of the initiative process and benefitting the public as a whole.
Once the measure qualified for the ballot, WLG filed a second lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Williams, challenging the ballot title prepared by the local government as confusing, misleading, and unclear (see Case No. 16CV28200). That litigation was also successful, and the court modified the ballot title to correctly describe the initiative for the voters. In the end, the voters approved the measure.
Understandably, voters often take Oregon’s initiative system for granted. For most people, the process seems easy and uncomplicated. Even active voters usually just get their ballot in the mail, spend some time reviewing the Voters’ Pamphlet, then cast their votes. But the process is not so simple. Even without unlawful obstruction, the normal behind-the-scenes process to initiate a proposed law is complicated and difficult; unexpected government hurdles requiring litigation just make an uphill battle even more onerous. The case of Williams v. Riggs is an important reminder that our election and initiative rights are often hard-fought, and shouldn’t be taken for granted.