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Historical Highlights: Office of the Washington State Attorney General 

 Washington’s Attorneys General:
 From Territory to Present

 • James B. Metcalf (1887- 89)
 • William C. Jones (1889-97)
 • Patrick Henry Winston (1897-1901)
 • Wickliffe Stratton (1901-05)
 • John Atkinson (1905-09)
 • Walter Bell (1909-11)
 • William V. Tanner (1911-19)
 • L.L. Thompson (1919-23)
 • John Dunbar (1923-33)
 • Garrison Hamilton (1933-40) 
 • Smith Troy (1941-52)
 • Don Eastvold (1953-56)
 • John J. O'Connell (1957-68)
 • Slade Gorton (1969- 80)
 • Ken Eikenberry (1981-92)
 • Christine Gregoire (1993-2004)
 • Rob McKenna (2005-2012) 
 • Bob Ferguson (2013-present)   

The Beginning

In 1889, Congress authorized organization of the state of Washington and its admission into the union as the 42nd state. Prior to statehood, the Washington Territory had an Attorney General appointed by the territorial governor with the consent of the President.

After Washington's admission to the Union in 1889, the Office of Attorney General became an elected position with a term of office of four years.

Washington's First Attorney General

Washington's territorial Attorney General was James B. Metcalf. A Mississippi native and Confederate veteran of the Civil War, Metcalf worked his way west after the war while studying law at night. In 1870 he was admitted to the California bar. After moving to Washington Territory, he became a distinguished trial attorney and was appointed territorial Attorney General in 1887. After statehood, Metcalf resumed his private practice and became a cable car promoter in the rapidly growing city of Seattle.

From Territory to Statehood—A snapshot in time

From statehood to the Second World War, the Washington State Attorney General's Office (AGO) remained relatively small and dealt with a narrow range of legal issues.

In many ways this reflected the views of the framers of the State Constitution. Article I, section 3 provides that the only persons and entities required to be represented by the Attorney General are the state officers. Prior to 1941, other state agencies and state actors were permitted to hire independent legal counsel and most did so.

As a result of the limited statutory responsibilities of the Attorney General, the Office remained a small group of staff attorneys for most of its early history.

The limited responsibilities during the first 50 years of statehood were also reflected in the relatively narrow range of legal issues handled by the Office. However, the legal matters handled by the Attorney General and his staff, while not diverse, were of great importance to the citizens of Washington and were indicative of the problems the State faced as it grew during this period.

And, of course, the Office's limited scope of activity during the 19th and early 20th centuries was also because Americans generally viewed the role of the government more narrowly than today.

Both major political parties advocated a limited government focused on certain activities, including ensuring the free flow of commerce (through legislation regarding transportation and utilities), public education and taxation. Not surprisingly then, it was these issues that the first seven attorneys general wrestled on behalf of the state government.

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Come the Railroads

Washington's first elected Attorney General, William C. Jones (1889-97), litigated four cases before the U.S. Supreme Court during his tenure. Three of the four were concerned with the ability of the new state to establish harbor lines in and around Puget Sound in order to aid the safe expansion of commerce. In one of the cases, General Jones faced the powerful Northern Pacific Railroad. In all three cases, General Jones prevailed and helped establish the authority of the State in its ability to manage its resources to promote the public welfare.

General Jones left office in 1897 when he was elected to the U.S. Congress. He was succeeded by Patrick Henry Winston, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War from North Carolina and member of the populist People's Party. A former U.S. Attorney for Washington for prior to his election, General Winston was so exhausted by his campaign for Attorney General that his health was permanently damaged. He remained ill throughout most of his tenure, and left office after only one term.

In 1901, Wickliffe Stratton, a Republican and native of Wisconsin, took office as Attorney General. Although Stratton was just 30 when elected, he had already served as the South Bend City Attorney and Pacific County Prosecutor. Stratton was particularly concerned during his single term in office with preserving and promoting the power of the state to collect taxes.

He successfully battled several Washington towns to ensure they collected and forwarded to the state the tax collected on liquor. In addition, General Stratton, like his predecessor, General Jones, took on the powerful Northern Pacific Railroad. General Stratton was successful in establishing that even the Northern Pacific was not exempt from paying property taxes on its land in Washington.

After leaving office General Stratton formed a Seattle law partnership with former Governor Henry McBride and served on the board of directors for a number of Seattle companies. He died in 1937.

John Atkinson succeeded General Stratton in 1905 and also served just one term. General Atkinson was a native of Pennsylvania where he began teaching school at age 15. A school principal as well as an attorney after he moved to Washington, he was appointed to the State Board of Education and served as the elected State Auditor before being elected Attorney General.

General Atkinson was primarily concerned with the ongoing pressures brought by the railroads and the growing demands of providing adequate public education. In 1905, the Legislature created the state Railroad Commission to regulate various aspects of the railroad industry in Washington. This commission was represented by the AGO and Commission matters took up most of General Atkinson's time. General Atkinson was also closely involved in litigation surrounding grants of public lands made for the siting of public schools.

General Atkinson ran unsuccessfully for Governor in 1908. After losing the election he returned to his law practice in Seattle.

He was succeeded as Attorney General by yet another Republican, Walter Bell. Bell was born in Iowa and in his early adulthood was a teacher, cattleman, farmer, and steamship purser before becoming a lawyer. Prior to becoming Attorney General, he was the Snohomish City Attorney and Snohomish County Prosecutor.

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Full-time Assistant Attorney General

General Bell was responsible for making the position of Assistant Attorney General a full-time job. Prior to that time, most assistants had worked only part-time for the state, with the remainder of their time spent in private practice in Seattle. General Bell also required that his assistants move to Olympia.

General Bell was directly involved in pursuing two U.S. Supreme Court cases with the State of Oregon during his tenure. One involved the border between the two states. General Bell lost this case. However, he was successful in defending the rights of a Washington resident who, although fishing in Washington's part of the Columbia, was charged by Oregon authorities with violating Oregon fishing statutes.

In 1911, General Bell stepped down to accept an appointment to the Superior Court in Snohomish County. Following his service on the bench he returned to Everett and resumed the private practice of law until his death in 1927.

He was succeeded by one of his assistants, William V. Tanner, who, at the age of 29 remains the youngest Attorney General in Washington's history. Tanner, a native of Minnesota, had worked his way up the ladder in the AGO, having worked there as a law clerk, stenographer, and Assistant Attorney General before being appointed to succeed General Bell. General Tanner, also a Republican, served out Bell's term and was twice reelected to his own terms of office. He served from 1911 through 1919.

General Tanner, like his predecessors, again took on the Northern Pacific Railroad when he assisted the Attorney General of North Dakota in filing suit against the railroad to require it to follow the intrastate rates set by North Dakota, rather than those set by the federal government. Northern Pacific won this battle on the grounds that the federal government had taken over the nation's railroads during World War I and, therefore, Northern Pacific, through the federal government, had the power to set rates.

General Tanner was very active in representing Washington in the U.S. Supreme Court. During his tenure the AGO was a litigant in almost 15 cases that came before the Court. His concern for the protection of Washington workers was exemplified by his victory before the Court when it affirmed the ability of the State to collect premiums due under the State's Worker's Compensation Act.

These Supreme Court cases also demonstrate General Tanner's belief in the power of the State to regulate the largely unregulated corporate entities of the day, including the Northern Pacific Railroad and Standard Oil. In 1919, General Tanner resigned from office to represent Washington in U.S. Supreme Court litigation regarding the rate-making authority of the railroad administrators.

After leaving office General Tanner was a partner in the Seattle law firm of Tanner, Garvin, and Ashley where he served as legal counsel to the Seattle Post Intelligencer. He eventually became the managing publisher of that newspaper between 1932 and 1936. He also served for a number of years on the board of directors for the Washington Mutual Savings Bank.

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General Tanner was succeeded by L.L. Thompson, one of his Assistant Attorneys General. General Thompson, born in Sumner, was the first native-born Washington State Attorney General. When he was appointed Attorney General, Thompson was just 31 years old.

Thompson was elected in 1920 on the Republican ticket, but resigned in 1923 in order to return to a more lucrative private practice. Only 34 when he resumed his private practice in Tacoma, he long remained a prominent member of the Pierce County bar and was active in numerous civic and professional organizations, including the Washington State Judicial Council.

John Dunbar, also a native Washingtonian, was appointed to succeed Thompson. General Dunbar's parents were early settlers in Washington. Dunbar's father was also a distinguished Washington attorney serving as a Washington Supreme Court Justice from 1889 to 1912.

Appointed Attorney General at age 33, Dunbar was elected to a full term the following year and another term four years later. He served until 1933. During his tenure, he was involved in numerous cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. These cases continued to involve common carriers and the interstate commerce clause, intrastate public transportation issues, and public utilities.

The Great Depression and War as a Catalyst for Change

The Great Depression intruded upon the end of Dunbar's term as Attorney General. General Dunbar was involved in the litigation that resulted from the changes the Depression forced upon Washington's taxation scheme.

Historically, Washington had relied on property taxes for a large part of its budget. As the Depression grew, the state required more money to fund its newly enacted social service programs. As a result, property taxes were increased. However, because of the depression, property tax delinquencies increased drastically.

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Property Tax Limitation and a Short-Lived Income Tax

In response, the Legislature passed a law limiting property tax increases and attempted to replace the shortfall in revenue by enacting an individual and corporate income tax. The state income tax was not long lived because the Washington Supreme Court determined that the tax violated the state constitution.

General Dunbar was defeated in the 1932 Democratic landslide that occurred with the election of President Franklin Roosevelt. Following his defeat, General Dunbar returned to private practice in Olympia where he remained until his death in the early 1940s.

In Washington, this Democratic landslide carried Garrison Hamilton to the Office of the Attorney General making him the first Democrat elected Attorney General. At age 78, Hamilton, a native of Ohio, is the oldest Attorney General to serve. Hamilton was elected to two terms and died in office in 1940 at age 86.

The workload of the AGO greatly increased during Hamilton's tenure. This was a result of:

  • The upheavals of the Depression;
  • The steps taken by municipal, local, and state governments to address those problems; and
  • The litigation that inevitably resulted.

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 Growth of the Attorney General's Office

  • In 1910, the Office consisted of only the Attorney General and three assistants.
  • By 1926, there were still only 7 Assistant Attorneys General.
  • As late as 1948, there were only 20 Assistant Attorneys General.
  • In the last 50 years, the Office has grown to more than 1,200 employees:
    • Working in 26 separate divisions;
    • Located in 12 locations throughout Washington;
    • Representing more than 200 state agencies, boards and commissions
     
 
 

Government Expansion

 Washington created many state counterparts to the New Deal social legislation passed by the federal government. Thus, General Hamilton was intimately involved in litigating matters involving not only taxation, but also the new areas of public health and welfare.

Since 1940, the Office of the Attorney General has steadily grown in size. This growth has been a function of many factors including a vast increase in the number of client agencies and entities and the expanded role government began to play in our society. This expansion could be measured by new laws and government programs and by the increasing frequency that citizens turned to the judicial system to solve problems.

General Hamilton was succeeded in 1940 by another Democrat, Smith Troy. At the time of his appointment, Troy was the Thurston County Prosecutor. General Troy served out the remainder of Hamilton's term and was reelected in 1944 and again in 1948.

From 1943 to 1945, General Troy served in the Army in Europe as Lieutenant Colonel Troy and earned five battle stars. During this time, Troy's deputy served as acting Attorney General.

Monopoly Statute

In 1941, at General Troy's urging, the Legislature passed the Monopoly Statute, RCW 43.10.067. This law required all state agencies to rely upon the AGO for legal representation. Not surprisingly, this led to an immediate increase in the workload of the Office and an increase in staff.

Important and noteworthy cases handled during General Troy's tenure included the condemnation actions surrounding the creation of Olympic National Park. Much of the land the federal government sought to condemn to create the park contained valuable timber owned by the State. General Troy filed suit against the federal government. A settlement was eventually reached and the State received more than 99 percent of the total amount claimed in its suit.

In another important case, General Troy represented the state in its attempt to get insurers to reimburse the state for the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The insurers initially declined to cover the loss. However, after filing a declaratory judgment action regarding the insurers' liability for the loss, the insurers agreed to fully reimburse the State.

General Troy was also successful in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving the fishing rights of Native Americans. The Court held that in signing various treaties with the native tribes in the 19th century, the state had not given up the right to regulate fishing by tribe members outside native lands.

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New Challenges and New Solutions

In 1952, 32-year-old Republican Don Eastvold was elected Attorney General over incumbent Troy. General Troy returned to private practice in Olympia where he remained an active member of the state bar until his death in 1988.

Attorney General Eastvold is the last Attorney General to have served just one term. General Eastvold was heavily involved in Republican politics and chaired the credentials committee at the 1952 Republican National Convention. He also gave one of the nominating speeches for Eisenhower at the convention.

Revenue Division

During General Eastvold’s tenure, the real estate sales tax law of 1951 was passed. This led to an increase in litigation and Attorney General opinions on property tax issues. These new laws led to the formation of what would become the Office’s Revenue Division.

Highways Division

Attorney General Eastvold also formally organized what was then called the Highways Division. This Division soon became one of the largest units in the Office as the rapid expansion of the state's highway system got underway as a result of the federal interstate highway program.

General Eastvold ran for Governor in the 1956 election, but was defeated. After this election loss he left politics and went into real estate development, promoting a number of large scale developments on the Washington coast. He passed away in 1998.

He was succeeded by John J. O'Connell, a Democrat, who was 37 years old when he was first elected. A World War II Army veteran of the South Pacific, O'Connell had previously served for two terms as the Pierce County Prosecutor.

After becoming Attorney General, O'Connell became active in the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), an activism continued by each of his successors. He received NAAG's award for Outstanding Attorney General in 1961 and was president of the organization in 1963.

One of the cases handled by the Office during General O'Connell's tenure grew out of the anti-communist excesses of the 1950s. O'Connell successfully defended the constitutionality of a state law that required employees of state universities to sign an oath that they were not members of the Communist party as a condition of their continued employment.

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Consumer Protection

General O'Connell was also involved in other, less controversial, litigation. The Consumer Protection and Antitrust Act (CPA), passed in 1961 at the urging of General O'Connell, led to a large increase in work for the Office.

In an important case involving the CPA, the Washington Supreme Court held that the Attorney General did not libel a fur company by making statements in a press release about the company. The Court held that state officials are absolutely privileged with respect to alleged defamatory statements contained in speeches or written publications arising out of their official duties.

Sovereign Immunity

The other factor driving the increased duties of the Office of the Attorney General was another piece of legislation passed in 1961 — the state tort claims act that waived Washington's sovereign immunity against citizen tort actions.

Prior to this waiver citizens could not generally sue the state and the AGO did not have an active tort defense practice. After 1961, a de facto torts division was formed within the Office's Highways Division and that division's trial attorneys functioned for many years as attorneys for both the state’s tort defense and the Department of Highways.

Federal Due Process

Federal court decisions in a variety of matters that rested on the increasing due process requirements associated with the receipt or denial of government benefits also drove the increased duties of the Office of the Attorney General. This led to additional judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings in which the State government needed legal representation.

All of these factors: consumer protection, torts, highways, and federal due process requirements, contributed to the growth of the Office from approximately 40 attorneys at the beginning of General 0’Connell’s tenure to approximately 110 when he left office in 1968.

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Heightened Consciousness and New Laws

In 1968, O’Connell ran unsuccessfully for Governor against Dan Evans and was succeeded as Attorney General by Slade Gorton, a Republican. Following his service as Attorney General, O’Connell returned to private practice in Tacoma and remained active in politics for many years. O'Connell passed away in 1998.

Like O'Connell, Gorton would be elected to three terms as Attorney General. General Gorton served in the Army after World War II and then entered law school. After law school, he entered private practice in Seattle. Prior to his election as Attorney General he served as a member of the Legislature from 1958 to 1968, eventually becoming House Majority Leader.

After his election, General Gorton became involved in NAAG. From 1972 to 1979, he was a member of NAAG's executive committee. He also served two terms as NAAG's president. General Gorton was active not only professionally but physically as well. In 1973, he took time off to bicycle coast to coast across the U.S..

General Gorton continued his predecessor's vigorous enforcement of consumer protection actions. He was also instrumental in the Legislature’s enactment of the Shoreline Management Act in 1971. In addition, although the AGO has no original criminal jurisdiction, General Gorton became involved in organizations to enhance the training of police and corrections officers.

Boldt Decision

Arguably the most important case that the Office was involved in during General Gorton's tenure was what has become known as the Boldt decision (United States v. Washington, 384 F. Supp. 312 (1974)) involving Native American fishing rights.

This decision grew out of several factors including:

  • The imprecise language contained in the numerous treaties signed between the tribes and the federal government in the 19th century;
  • The decline in the fishing stocks that began to reach alarming proportions by the early 1970s; and
  • The civil rights movement that served as an impetus for Native Americans across the country to seek redress in federal court for what they considered to be long-standing violations of their treaty rights.

In February 1974, U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt issued a decision in which he determined that the treaties signed during the 19th century guaranteed Native Americans 50 percent of the fish caught in non-tribal waters. Until that decision, the tribes had only been taking approximately 10 percent of that harvest.

Social and Health Services

The Office continued to grow during General Gorton's tenure. One piece of legislation that caused this continued growth was passed by the Legislature in 1978 and required the Office of the Attorney General to represent the Department of Social and Health Services in juvenile courts in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Spokane counties on termination and dependency matters.

In addition to the direct impact this legislation had on the workload of the Office, it also led to the Office's participation in these matters in other counties and contributed to the growth of the Office's regional staffs.

AG Revolving Fund

In 1971, the Legislature created the Attorney General revolving fund, RCW 43.10.210, that transferred all Assistant Attorneys General to a dedicated Office budget and began the process of transferring to that dedicated budget the Office's support staff.

Ecology Division

The other great societal change during the Gorton administration was the birth of the modern environmental movement and the creation of the Washington State Department of Ecology in 1970.

With the creation of the Department of Ecology came a consolidation and expansion of the state's environmental protection activities that led to General Gorton's creation of the Office's Ecology Division. The Ecology Division drew its original staff from many of those attorneys already working on related issues for their clients at the Departments of Natural Resources, Transportation, and Fish and Wildlife.

All told, the number of attorneys in the Office doubled during General Gorton's three terms to approximately 220 by 1980. It was also during this period that legislation was enacted that prohibited the Office's attorneys from engaging in private practice with the passage of RCW 43.10.150 in 1973.

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The Modern Era

General Gorton was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980 where he served as the State's senior Senator for nearly 20 years.

He was succeeded as Attorney General by fellow Republican Ken Eikenberry. Keeping up the tradition begun by O'Connell and continued by Gorton, Eikenberry was elected to three terms as Attorney General.

After graduating from law school, Eikenberry was an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He followed this with service for several years as a deputy prosecutor in King County. During his time at the prosecutor's office, Eikenberry became increasingly involved in politics.

From 1971 to 1976, he served in the State House, and from 1977 until his election as Attorney General, Eikenberry was a member of the Republican National Committee and a chairman of the Republican State Central Committee.

Criminal Justice Division

One of General Eikenberry's priorities was to bring more of the resources of the Office of the Attorney General into the state's criminal law enforcement efforts. A result of this focus, and a result of the Legislature's enactment of RCW 43.10.232, that granted the Office of the Attorney General concurrent authority to investigate and prosecute crimes, was the creation of the Office's first formally designated Criminal Prosecution Unit. This unit immediately began to assist in criminal prosecution matters referred to the Attorney General by the Governor or county prosecutors. Later under Attorney General Gregoire, most of the office’s criminal justice functions were consolidated into one division aptly named the Criminal Justice Division.

 AG Fast Facts

 
  •  Since 1889, Washington has elected 16 attorneys general — 15 men and 1 woman, ranging in age at the date of their election or appointment from 29 to 78. 
  • More than half were not born in Washington.
  • Many came from pioneer farming families and received little formal education. Others came from privileged backgrounds with extensive education.
  • Prior to becoming attorneys, most had other occupations including farmer, school teacher, seminary student, school principal, railroad clerk, and steamship purser.
  • Democrats, Republicans, and one candidate of the "People's Party" have been elected as AG.
  • Past attorneys general have fought in the Civil War, World War I, and World War II, as well as having served in the armed forces as members of the Judge Advocate General's Corps.
 
 

Reorganization

During his tenure Attorney General Eikenberry also began a period of reorganization within the Office designed to address some of the challenges that arose from the growth of the Office.

He consolidated or reconfigured several divisions to improve the lines of communication between the many attorneys, and to otherwise meet the demands of more than three decades of continued expansion of Washington state government.

He also further modernized the Office's budgeting and fiscal processes during this period and reallocated Division resources to better match the necessary legal services with the needs of the various agencies.

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AGO Conference

One of the many innovations during this period, in an effort to reintroduce the collegiality of a smaller organization, was the creation of the annual Attorney General's Office Conference.

Attorney General Eikenberry received the 1992 Republican gubernatorial nomination but narrowly lost the general election that year. Now semi-retired, Eikenberry still makes his home in Olympia where he works as a political consultant and is active in various other endeavors.

Eikenberry was succeeded in 1993 by Christine Gregoire, a Democrat who grew up in Auburn, Wash., and the first woman to be elected to the position in Washington. She began her legal career in 1977 as an Assistant Attorney General, and in 1981 became the first woman appointed Deputy Attorney General. In 1988, she left the Office to become Director of the Washington Department of Ecology.

High-Tech Unit

As Attorney General, Gregoire continued to champion the rights of consumers. In addition to the traditional litigation brought by the Office under the CPA, General Gregoire assisted in bringing the CPA into the computer age, encouraging legislation and assisting in the enforcement of anti-spamming laws, and forming a High Technology Unit to combat Internet fraud.

She was elected president of NAAG in 2000.

During General Gregoire's tenure, the Office has continued to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court in several important cases. In one case, the Court upheld the constitutionality of Washington's law banning physician-assisted suicide.

Solicitor General’s Office

In response to the growing number, and changing complexity, of appellate cases handled by the Office, General Gregoire established the position of Washington State Solicitor General responsible for analyzing all the Office's appellate issues and supervising the drafting of all official Opinions of the Office of the Attorney General.

Tobacco Settlement

Perhaps Attorney General Gregoire's most significant achievement to date was her instrumental leadership in the national settlement reached with the tobacco industry.

General Gregoire and her colleagues from other states reached an agreement in which the industry agreed to pay states more than $206 billion through 2025. The tobacco settlement bans the industry from using cartoon characters in advertising, from targeting youth in its marketing, from using billboards and transit advertising, and from the sale and distribution of clothes and other items that essentially serve as billboards for tobacco. For her leadership in this settlement, Gregoire was named the most influential attorney general in the country by the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids.

Enron scandal

In the wake of the Enron scandal, Gregoire led the effort to recoup $97.5 million lost by the Washingtonians in Enron bonds and she investigated Enron and other companies engaged in illegal business practices in the Western power market.

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Gregoire ran for Governor in 2004 and served two terms before retiring.  Republican Rob McKenna was elected as Washington's 17th Attorney General. 

General McKenna’s ongoing priorities were:

  • Making communities safer by leading the state in fighting meth and prescription drug abuse, gang violence, sexual predators, human trafficking and domestic violence;
  •  Protecting consumers and businesses from identity theft, internet predators, fraud and high-tech crimes, such as cyber fraud, phishing and spyware;
  •  Promoting integrity in government by defending the state’s laws, implementing new performance management initiatives in his office and encouraging open access to government.

McKenna was an active leader in the National Association of Attorneys General and ultimately served as 2011-12 President.

Leading the fight against the most dangerous drugs

In 2005, McKenna launched Operation: Allied Against Meth and passed a comprehensive new statewide methamphetamine initiative in the Legislature. He presented his anti-meth presentation to nearly 35,000 students in more than 60 schools across Washington.  

As the meth epidemic gave way to a more dangerous prescription drug epidemic, McKenna shifted focus. He granted funds from prescription drug settlements to help underwrite youth tracks and provide scholarships to the annual Washington Prevention Summit held each fall in Yakima. The office also partnered with the DSHS Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery to plan and implement Spring Prevention Forums from 2009 to 2012, where youth share their prevention programs with their peers.

He convened a Prescription Drug Advisory Group to identify ways to reduce access to prescription drugs without a prescription and works with various groups to encourage people to be aware of the prescription drugs in their home, lock their medicine cabinets to prevent youth and others from obtaining them and dispose of unused or expired drugs properly.

High-Tech Consumer Protection

Soon after taking office, McKenna won increased funding from the Legislature for the Consumer Protection Division to fight high-tech fraud.   In addition, he expanded the High-Tech Unit, hired the office’s first computer forensic investigator and developed a state-of-the-art lab to investigate the entire scheme of internet activities. Under his leadership, the office helped pass anti-spyware legislation and prosecuted the state’s first anti-spyware cases.

Attorney General McKenna convened the first statewide Identity Theft Conference, co-founded the Law Enforcement Group Against Identity Theft (LEGIT), passed legislation allowing citizens to freeze access to their credit before they become victims of ID theft, and conducted an award-winning multi city “Guard it! Washington” tour to help businesses and consumers learn how to protect themselves from fraud.  

Accountability and performance

Under AG McKenna’s leadership, the Office of the Attorney General was the first state agency to implement a performance management plan that rewards high performing employees who achieve rigorous goals. He has also updated the state’s public records law and developed model rules for public disclosure and electronic records.

McKenna won all three of the cases he has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, defending voter-adopted laws on campaign finance reform, the top-two primary election system and the state public records law.

Helping Washington weather the economic storm

In response to the Great Recession and associated financial and mortgage crises, McKenna became a national leader in combating mortgage and foreclosure fraud.  He co-chaired NAAG’s Financial Practices Committee from 2005-2007, helping lead cases against subprime lenders, like Countrywide, that resulted in the largest consumer protection settlements in national history.  In June 2010, he was named to the Board of Advisors of the Stanford University Center for the Study of Financial Fraud and he served on President Obama’s Financial Fraud Task Force and two of its subcommittees.

In February 2012, after nearly a year of intense negotiations led by McKenna and seven other Attorneys General, 49 states and the federal government reached the largest consumer financial protection settlement in history, originally securing a pledge of $25 billion in mortgage relief from America’s five largest banks.  The agreement settled allegations of widespread, systematic mortgage fraud and related issues that collapsed the housing market. Washington’s share of the settlement brought $648 million in benefits to struggling homeowners.  In addition to monetary relief, the settlement also includes unprecedented reforms of servicing and foreclosure standards, with loan servicers agreeing to make major changes in how they deal with borrowers and handle foreclosures.  As of 2013, the banks have provided more than $50 billion in relief to homeowners nationwide and roughly $1.2 billion to Washington homeowners..

Multi-state Health Care Lawsuit

In March 2010, McKenna joined 25 fellow attorneys general in a multi-state lawsuit challenging both the new law’s unprecedented individual mandate that all Americans either have or purchase a government-approved health insurance policy or face a fine, and the massive expansion of the Medicaid program.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court heard an extraordinary three days of oral argument on the case on March 26, 27 and 28, 2012.  On June 28, 2012, the Court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act--including the requirement that people who do not have health insurance coverage pay a tax if they do not obtain insurance approved by the federal government.  While the majority of the Court agreed with the states that the mandate violated the Commerce clause, the Court ultimately ruled that the mandate is constitutional under Congress’s taxing power.
 
National Leadership in the Fight to End Human Trafficking

In 2003, Washington was the first state in the nation to pass a law criminalizing human trafficking, yet by 2008, no known charges had been filed under the law.   McKenna convened the AGO Human Trafficking Roundtable in 2008 to bring together legislators, law enforcement and social services leaders to discuss the issue. He made the fight against human trafficking a top community safety priority, and the Attorney General’s Office began working to help to raise awareness of the problem across Washington State.  

In 2011, while serving as President of the National Association of Attorneys General, McKenna launched his presidential initiative, “Pillars of Hope:  Attorneys General Unite Against Human Trafficking.”   The Pillars of Hope Initiative, which focused on making the case, holding traffickers accountable, helping victims, and reducing demand, brought national leadership to the fight against human trafficking.

McKenna ran for governor in 2012 and was defeated. He returned to private practice and leads a team that works with attorneys general around the country.

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Democrat Bob Ferguson was elected as Washington’s 18th Attorney General in November 2012.  Ferguson is a fourth-generation Washingtonian.  

Since taking office in January 2013, his top priorities for the Attorney General’s Office have been:
•    Protecting consumers and seniors against fraud by cracking down on powerful interests that don’t play by the rules;
•    Keeping communities safer by supporting law enforcement;
•    Protecting our environment; and
•    Standing up for our veterans by advocating for service men and women and their families.
 
Marijuana Legalization in Washington state

Upon taking office, Attorney General Ferguson faced one of the biggest legal challenges in the history of Washington.  In November 2012, Washington state voters passed I-502, making Washington one of only two in the nation to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Because Washington’s new law conflicts with the federal Controlled Substance Act, the implementation of I-502 presents unprecedented challenges for both law enforcement and community safety.

Just weeks into his term, Attorney General Ferguson and Governor Jay Inslee met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss Initiative 502. The federal government responded in August with a directive allowing the states to move forward with legalization efforts and emphasizing eight key areas of enforcement.

Supporting Marriage Equality

In 2009, the Washington State Legislature approved the “everything-but-marriage” bill in 2009.  Under the measure, same-sex couples were granted the right to enter into domestic partnerships with all the legal rights and responsibilities of married couples, except that a domestic partnership was not a marriage.  After opponents gathered enough signatures to refer the measure to voters as Referendum 71, voters ultimately affirmed these rights of same sex couples by a vote of more than 53 percent.

In 2012, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 6239, legalizing same-sex marriage.  Once again, opponents garnered enough signatures to refer the measure to voters. In November 2012, Referendum 74 was approved by nearly 54 percent and Washington became the ninth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

While couples may be legally married under state law in certain states, federal law does not recognize same sex marriage.

The AGO joined other states in filing friend-of-the court briefs in two landmark cases, Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor, both argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Hollingsworth is a case determining whether or not to strike down California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage.

In Windsor, the IRS denied Ms. Windsor a refund on federal estate taxes when her same-sex spouse died - a refund she would have received had her spouse been of the opposite sex.  While the state of New York recognized the couple's marriage, the IRS denied the refund under section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

This case had a direct impact on Washington families. Couples who were legally married in Washington could have found themselves being denied important federal benefits. By joining these cases, the voice of Washington voters who approved gay marriage became part of this critical debate.

US Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in both cases.

Protecting consumers against discrimination

Washington has strong laws in place to protect consumers against discrimination.   Under Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, which is enforced by the Attorney General’s Office, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation.

In April, Attorney General Ferguson filed a lawsuit against a florist in the Tri-cities who violated the law by refusing to provide wedding flowers to a long-time customer based on her opposition to same-sex marriage.  The lawsuit, filed in Benton County, seeks a court order requiring the florist to comply with consumer protection laws.

Community Safety Legislation

The 2013 Legislature approved a bipartisan measure proposed by Attorney General Ferguson to improve community safety for the people of Washington by extending courthouse protections to all residents accessing the courts.

Senate Bill 5484 extends protections already granted to some courthouse, legal and law enforcement personnel to all visitors to Washington courthouses. The bill garnered wide support from law enforcement, prosecutors and victims’ advocates.  It increases penalty for misdemeanor assault in and around a courthouse to a felony – regardless of the victim.  And it makes committing a felony in and around a courthouse – regardless of the victim – an aggravating factor for a judge to consider during sentencing.
 
Supporting Washington’s military personnel, veterans and families

Attorney General Ferguson grew up in a family of veterans--with a father who served in the U.S. Navy, both grandfathers serving in the military and several uncles who served in World War II.  Bringing his personal dedication to standing up for those who honor and serve our country, he immediately began work on behalf of Washington’s veterans, military personnel and their families.

In Sept. 2013, Attorney General Ferguson unveiled a comprehensive new Veterans and Military Resource Guide.  Standing with the state’s veterans, military service members and their families is a top priority for the Attorney General. In the first six months since taking office, Ferguson:

  • Appointed a veterans’ outreach specialist;
  • Created a new Web site, featuring legal resources for veterans, military and their families in the areas of business and commerce, housing, employment and the law;
  • Cracked down on schemes targeting veterans with the promise of untapped benefits;
  • Signed the Statement of Support for the Guard and Reserve; and
  • Convened the Military and Veterans Assistance Team—an internal team of attorneys and legal staff dedicated to improving services for veterans, military and their families in Washington.

With approximately 640,000 veteran residents, Washington State has the 12th largest veteran population in the United States.  Washington is also home to a number of major military installations, such as Joint Base Lewis–McChord, Fairchild Air Force Base, Naval Base Kitsap, and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Between active duty military personnel and members of the National Guard and Reserve, there are about 62,000 service members in Washington. Taken together, veterans and military personnel account for more than 10 percent of Washington’s total population.

A HISTORY OF PROTECTING THE PEOPLE

From the first clashes with the giant railroad monopolies to the recent national mortgage settlement with the country’s biggest banks, the Office of the Attorney General has consistently represented the legal interests of the people of the State of Washington.  

From 1889 until approximately 1940, it was a relatively small organization that dealt with a narrow group of issues peculiar to the problems of a fledgling state. However, beginning with the enactment of the Monopoly Statute in 1941 relating to provision of state agency legal services, and the subsequent rapid growth of Washington state and its state government, the Office has been called upon to address an ever increasing number of legal issues in an ever increasing number of forums.

Over the course of the last century the Office of the Attorney General has established itself as Washington's most important law firm.  And, just as the Office successfully met the challenges of the last century, it will undoubtedly continue to be called upon to provide outstanding legal representation to meet the needs of a forever changing and adapting state of Washington.

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Bibliography

  • Bish, Robert L., Governing Puget Sound, Washington Sea Grant distributed by the University of Washington Press, Seattle 1982.
  • Boersema, Craig, Ph.D., Candidate, The Office of the Washington State Attorney General as a Stepping Stone to Higher Political Office, Department of Political Science, Washington State University. March, 1986.
  • Boersema, Craig, Ph.D., One Hundred Years in the Washington Attorney General's Office: A Study of the Incumbents and Their Cases in the Washington State Supreme Court,March 24, 1989 (Funded in part by a grant from the Washington State AGO in 1986).
  • Durham, Nelson Wayne. History of the City of Spokane and Spokane County, Washington, S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Spokane 1912.
  • Levine, Raphael H. with Barlow, Anne, Rabbi Raphael Levine's Profiles in Service: Stories of People Who Help People, Evergreen Publishing Company, 1985.
  • Lyman. William Denison, History of the Yakima Valley, Washington: Comprising Yakima, Kittitas and Benton Counties, S.J. Clarke, Chicago 1919.
  • Newell, Gordon, Rogues, Buffoons and Statesmen, Hangman Press as presented by Superior Publishing Company, Seattle 1975.
  • Edited by Nice, David C., Pierce. John C.. Sheldon, Charles H., Government and Politics in the Evergreen State, Washington State University Press, Pullman 1992.
  • Notable Men of Washington, The Perkins Press, Tacoma 1912.
  • Pollard, Lancaster, A History of the State of Washington, Vol. IV, American Historical Society, Inc., New York 1937.
  • Prosser, William Farrand, A History of the Puget Sound Country, Vol. I, The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago 1903.
    Renfro, Alfred T., assisted by Gauntlett, Victor & Smith, Ruple Dix, The Thirteenth Session of the Washington State Legislature and State Officials, Beaux Arts Village, Washington: A.T. Renfro, 1913.
  • Renfro, Alfred T., The Fourteenth Session: a brief historv of the men who represented the million and half people of the State of Washington in the legislature of 1915, Seattle, Washington: House of Sherman, 1915.
  • Steele, Patrick M., From the Beginning: A History of the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association, The Association, 1990. [Editor: Val Dumond]
  • Stewart, Edgar Irving, Washington: Northwest Frontier, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York 1957.
  • Swanson, Thor, Mullen, William F., Pierce, John C., & Sheldon, Charles H., Political Life in Washington: Governing the Evergreen State, Washington State University Press, Pullman 1985.
  • Whitfield, William, History of Snohomish County, Washington, Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, Chicago 1926.
  • Washington State Office of the Attorney General, Christine O. Gregoire, 1997 Annual Report.
  • Attorney General of Washington, 1998 Annual Report, Published February, 1999.
  • Attorney General of Washington, 2005 Annual Report, Published January 2006
  • Attorney General Reports: William Cary Jones; Wickliffe Buren Stratton; John D. Atkinson; Walter P. Bell; William Vaughn Tanner; Garrison W. Hamilton; Smith Troy; John James O'Connell; Thomas Slade Gorton.
  • Articles from Tacoma newspapers dated 1936
  • Snohomish Sun, Special Edition, Snohomish, Washington, 1891. (J. W, Gunn, Ed. & Mgr.]
  • The Associated Press article 5/5/99
  • The Associated Press article 6/25/96
  • PI article 8/16/88
  • PI article 11/17/81
  • Information provided by Ed Mackie, former Chief Deputy AG
  • RCWs: 4.92; 19.86; 43.10.067; 43.10.090; 43.10.150-43.10.220.
  • Cases: Ridduch v. State; Prosser v. Northern Pacific R. Co., 152 U.S. 59 (1894); State v. McBride; State v. City of Seattle, 31 Wash. 149; State v. City of Aberdeen, 34 Wash. 61; Mountain Timber Co. v. State, 243 U.S. 219 (1917); Puget Sound Traction, Light, & Power Co. v. Reynolds, 244 U.S. 574 (1917); Northern Pacific Railway Co. v. State, 222 U.S. 370 (1912); State ex rel. Paulhamus v. Puget Sound Electric Railway, 65 Wash. 75; Standard Oil Co. v. Graves, 249 U.S. 389 (1919); Culliton v. Chase, 174 Wash. 363 (1933); Gold Seal Chinchillas, Inc. v. State, 69 Wash.2d 828 (1966); Nostrand v. Balmer, 53 Wn.2d 460 (1959); Weiss v. Bruno, 82 Wn.2d 199 (1973); State v. O’Connell, 83 Wn.2d 797 (1974); Blair v. Washington State University, 108 Wn.2d 558 (1987); Sofie v. Fibreboard Corp., 112 Wash.2d 636 (1989); Washington v. Glucksberg; Edwards v. Balisok; Kansas v. Hendricks.

 


Originally prepared by Assistant Attorneys General Todd Bowers and Drew Scott with much assistance from many. Updated in 2006 by AGO Speechwriter Maureen Scharber.

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