Court determines Sheriff Fortney can be subject to recall

by Luke Putvin | Lynnwood Times Staff

On May 15, Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning ruled the recall effort against Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney can move forward.

Lori Shavlik, Snohomish County resident, was the one who filed the recall petition. This comes as a result of Fortney’s April 21 Facebook post in which he said he would not enforce Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.

“As your elected Sheriff I will always put your constitutional rights above politics or popular opinions. We have the right to peaceably assemble,” Fortney said in his post. “We have the right to keep and bear arms. We have the right to attend church service of any denomination. The impacts of COVID-19 no longer warrant the suspension of our constitutional rights.”

Around that time, Fortney was met with criticism from other elected officials. County Executive Dave Somers, for example, emphasized the need for data-driven and science-based policy decisions. “Anything less would be a disservice to the residents of Snohomish County and [would] be playing Russian roulette with the lives of those we are charged to protect,” Somers said.

Representative Strom Peterson also criticized the statement, calling it: “beyond reckless and really lacking in any kind of factual reality… We need all of our elected officials, especially our law enforcement officials, to follow the laws and rules and do what’s right. So I condemn that statement with every fiber of my being.”

Fortney posted on Facebook again on May 15 after Warning ruled the recall effort could move forward.

“This afternoon a court determined that an elected Sheriff can be subject to recall for expressing political disagreement with the Governor’s policies,” Fortney said.

“I stand by my statement that the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office is not going to arrest people for a gross misdemeanor when they pray, go to church or express their views under the First Amendment,” he said. “When 2,000 people gathered at the Capitol to express their First Amendment rights, the governor responded, not with citations or arrests, but rather with statements that he ‘supports free speech’ and ‘welcomed’ the protestors. I share the governor’s respectful and reserved approach to enforcement.”

Article 1 Section 33 of the Washington Constitution says that a recall can only happen if the official engaged in the “commission of some act or acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office, or who has violated his oath of office.”

RCW 29A.56.180, in explaining the number of signatures required for a petition to get a recall on the next ballot, says: “In the case of a state officer, an officer of a city of the first class, a member of a school board in a city of the first class, or a county officer of a county with a population of forty thousand or more—signatures of legal voters equal to twenty-five percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for the office to which the officer whose recall is demanded was elected at the preceding election.”

Since Snohomish County has over 822,000 residents as of 2019, Fortney would be subject to this percentage. In the 2019 election, 204,160 ballots were cast in Snohomish County, so the petition would need to signed by a little over 51,000 registered voters. 

In an April 28 letter to Fortney, Snohomish Prosecutor Adam Cornell said that Fortney will not be defended in this case at the expense of the public. Cornell called Fortney’s post “akin to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”

Shavlik has started a GoFundMe to pay for the help of professionals to help gather signatures, and individuals on behalf of Fortney’s lawyer, Mark Lamb, have created a GoFundMe to raise funds to defend Fortney. 

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