Since being sworn in as the 18th Attorney General of Washington, it’s been a busy few weeks! As I become better acquainted with the inner workings of the office, and the vast range of cases and legal issues we’re involved with, I’m pleased to report the rumors are true – the Attorney General’s Office has a fantastic staff, an impressive pool of talent and an outstanding reputation as both a legal and administrative leader among public law firms.
Vision for the AGO: Consumer Protection, Public Safety, Veterans and the Environment
As Attorney General, I serve as the top legal officer for state government, managing the largest public law office in the state. The office has approximately 500 attorneys and 600 professional staff serving in thirteen locations across Washington. We provide legal services to nearly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. In representing state clients and the public interest, our work touches the lives of every Washington resident. So it’s no surprise that one of the questions I’m most often asked is, “What’s your vision for the Attorney General’s Office?”
In short, my vision is to make the best public law office in the country even better. I intend to build on the office’s long history of commitments to protecting public safety and enhancing consumer protection by taking on powerful interests that do not play by the rules. My top priorities also include supporting our state’s veterans and protecting our environment.
The Legal Implementation of I-502
Last month, Governor Jay Inslee and I met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss Initiative 502 – the voter-approved legalization of marijuana. The legalization of marijuana presents new and challenging issues for our state as we move forward with implementation. One of these challenges is the interaction of our new state law with existing federal laws. As Attorney General, my job is to defend this law against any federal challenge. We don’t want a legal fight with the federal government, but we are certainly preparing for that possibility. The bottom line is we intend to support the will of the people and move the state forward on the legal implementation of I-502.
Interestingly, the State of Colorado is in much the same position as we are, since voters there also passed an initiative in November to legalize marijuana. I recently spoke to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. He and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper have also reached out to Attorney General Holder. While it remains unclear how the federal government plans to respond, Attorney General Suthers and I have agreed to partner on our states’ efforts. For more details about the meeting with Attorney General Holder, listen to my recent KIRO interview, which begins at the 26:40 mark of the video.
There will be more to come on this issue, so stay tuned!
AGO Request Legislation – Courthouse Protection Bill
We recently introduced our Courthouse Protection Bill, which aims to protect citizens doing business at courthouses in Washington. Acts of courtroom violence are on the rise across the country, and our state is no exception. Just a few weeks ago, a detective was assaulted in a Kent courthouse.
In 2011, the Legislature passed a new law to increase the penalty for assaulting a court employee or judicial officer in the course of performing his or her duties. This session, I’m asking lawmakers to go a step further and help protect everyone doing business at our courthouses by increasing penalties for any assaults in or around a courthouse, regardless of who is the victim. On Tuesday, I testified about the bill before the House Public Safety Committee. The Senate Law and Justice Committee is set to hear testimony on Friday.
I greatly appreciate the help and support we’ve received in this effort from the prime sponsors of our bill, Representative Roger Goodman and Senator Adam Kline. Also assisting us with this legislation are Representatives Mike Hope, Eric Pettigrew, Cathy Dahlquist, Jamie Petersen, Kevin Van De Wege, Cindy Ryu and Luis Moscoso and Senators David Frockt, Kevin Ranker, Christine Rolfes, Mike Padden, Joe Fain, and Jeanne Kohl-Welles.
We’re also thankful to the following groups that signed in and/or testified in support of the Courthouse Protection Bill.
- Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
- Washington State Patrol Troopers Association
- Washington Coalition of Police and Sheriffs
- Fraternal Order of Police
- Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs
- Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs
- Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Washington Coalition of Crime Victim Advocates
- Legal Voice
- Association of Washington Cities
- Washington State Association of Counties
- Washington Federation of State Employees
- Washington State Board of Judicial Administration
- Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs
State and Federal Coalition Challenging Standard and Poor’s Ratings
Last week we announced that the AGO joined a group of state AGs and the U.S. DOJ in filing suit against Standard & Poor's (S&P). We allege the credit rating agency misled investors with regard to structured finance securities backed by subprime mortgages that were at the center of the national financial crisis.
S&P systematically misrepresented that its analysis was objective and independent. We now know this is not true. In fact, S&P's analysis was improperly influenced by financial interests. S&P's actions have significant real world implications for the finances of individual investors. These securities are often included in mutual fund and pension fund portfolios that play significant roles in people's retirement and investment strategies.
The AGO seeks a court order to force S&P to refrain from making false representations to the public, changes in the way the company does business, and other relief consistent with the state's Consumer Protection Act that the court may deem just and proper.
Collaborating to Fight Human Trafficking
While recently attending the Democratic Attorneys General Association's Winter Policy Conference, I participated in a panel discussion about Human Trafficking with New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. We talked about how Attorneys General are working together to fight human trafficking, and ways we can strengthen those efforts.
One example of our collaboration is the effort to pressure Backpage.com to stop advertising human trafficking victims, including children, on their site. Ultimately, all 50 state Attorneys General joined the effort. Last year, the site's parent company, Village Voice Media, cut ties with Backpage.com. Unfortunately, Backpage.com still operates, but arrests of those advertising minors and others on the site also continue.
Former Attorney General Rob McKenna did a great job spearheading this collaboration with his NAAG presidential initiative, “Pillars of Hope: Attorneys General Unite Against Human Trafficking.” I will continue his work on this important issue.
Wing Luke Museum
I attended a reception at Seattle's Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar designated the museum as an "affiliated area" of the National Park Service. This federal recognition could lead to government assistance and increased national exposure.
The museum is named for the first Asian-American elected official. Wing Luke was born in 1925 in a small town near Canton, China. His family returned to the U.S. in 1930 and settled in Seattle. In 1944, Wing was selected as one of the nine most outstanding high school students in the U.S. by the Secretary of Labor and invited to Washington, D.C. as a high school consultant for a White House conference on juvenile problems. Half way through his senior year, Wing was inducted into the Army.
Following his service, Wing entered the University of Washington. He graduated from the university with a B.A. in political science and public administration. He did graduate work in the same fields at American University in Washington, D.C. Returning to UW, he earned a L.L.B. in law. Initially in private practice, he soon was appointed as an AAG in the Civil Rights Division of the AGO and served in that capacity from 1957-1962.
In December 1961, Wing took a leave of absence from his duties to file for position number 5 on the Seattle City Council. Wing Luke won the council seat and was sworn in March 13, 1962 and became the first Asian American to hold elected office in the Pacific Northwest.
Thanks to all for the nice reception and warm welcome after my swearing-in! My wife Colleen, our twins Jack and Katie, along with my mother and many other family members travelled to Olympia to join in the celebration. It was an exciting and memorable occasion for all of us.