Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Jan 13 2020

The Ferguson File a monthly e-newsletter from attorney general bob ferguson

Dear Friends,

Over this holiday season, the public servants in my office have been hard at work standing up for Washingtonians. My legal team prevailed twice more against the Trump Administration. A federal judge struck down President Trump’s unlawful “conscience rule,” as well as the Trump Administration’s efforts to allow the release of 3D-printed gun files. My legal team sued to stop the federal government from arresting immigrants in and near courthouses in Washington, a practice that harms public safety and Washington’s justice system. We remain undefeated in lawsuits against President Trump and his administration.

 

We also had victories involving a wide breadth of other issues while representing the people of Washington state— from standing up for veterans to combating data breaches to convicting an animal trafficker to holding deceptive advertising practices accountable.

 

To learn more about how my office is working for you, read on.

In this issue:

Thank you for following the work of the Attorney General’s Office.

Sincerely,

Bob-Signature

Bob Ferguson
Washington State Attorney General


lab worker with test tube and lab instruments


AG report calls for policies that improve justice for survivors of sexual assault

Last year, my office convened an advisory group with the mission to reduce the number of untested sexual assault kits and to review best practices for managing all aspects of sexual assault investigations. The group, known as the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Advisory Group, was established through bipartisan legislation sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines) and Rep. Gina Mosbrucker (R-Goldendale)

This December, the SAFE Advisory Group released a report to the Legislature and the Governor that calls on the state to provide resources for the investigation and prosecution of cold cases, to establish a statewide practice of collecting court-ordered DNA samples, and require storage of unreported sexual assault kits for 20 years, among other recommendations.

In keeping with the group’s recommendation, my office has asked the Legislature for $1.7 million to form a cold case investigation team in our office, to support law enforcement around the state.

These proposals are important next steps toward justice for sexual assault survivors. My office looks forward to working with the Legislature to implement these recommendations.

Everett Herald
State crime team proposed to work on cold rape, murder cases


CenturyLink to pay $6.1 million over hidden fees affecting 650,000 Washingtonians

As a result of a lawsuit I filed against CenturyLink, the company will pay $6.1 million to the Attorney General’s Office. CenturyLink added extra charges to customer bills without accurately disclosing those fees, impacting 650,000 Washingtonians. CenturyLink also failed to provide discounts that their sales agents had promised to about 16,000 Washingtonians.

Nearly $900,000 of the money has been or will be directly refunded to Washington consumers to make up for discounts they were promised, but did not receive. I will set aside the remainder until a nationwide class action lawsuit currently pending in Minnesota federal court is resolved. If the approximately 650,000 eligible Washingtonians receive less than full restitution through the class action, my office will provide the remainder of the $6.1 million with the goal of making impacted Washingtonians whole. If the class action lawsuit makes affected Washingtonians whole, we will invest the recovery into our work combating dishonest fees that harm Washingtonians.

The lawsuit is the first major action in my office’s Honest Fees Initiative, which works to ensure that companies adequately disclose all fees and charges to Washington consumers, and that those fees are lawful.

CenturyLink told consumers they would pay one price, and then charged them more. All companies must clearly disclose added fees and charges to Washingtonians. If you believe that a company has charged dishonest fees, please contact my office.

Q13

CenturyLink ordered to pay $6.1 million to Washington state over hidden fees

 


Fighting to keep our courthouses safe for all

On Dec. 18, my office filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump Administration for arresting immigrants with no violent criminal history in and near courthouses in Washington. This practice is harmful to public safety and Washington’s justice system.

Since 2017, immigration authorities have arrested hundreds of immigrants in or near courthouses in Washington. Contrary to the assertions of immigration officials, evidence shows these arrests are not limited to dangerous individuals. Many were victims of crime or appeared in court on nonviolent charges, such as traffic offenses, with no prior criminal record. Others were in court to register motor vehicles, pay traffic tickets or accompany a relative to court. My legal team uncovered evidence statewide that these courthouse arrests causes witnesses, victims, and others to refuse to enter courthouses. Their refusal to participate in the criminal justice system reduces public safety.

The federal government has arrested many people who are simply trying to access justice for themselves or their families. That’s illegal, makes us all less safe and needs to stop. People must feel safe accessing the courts in order for our justice system to work.

The Seattle Times

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sues Trump administration over courthouse immigration arrests

 

Crosscut

Calling it a 'trap,' Washington sues to stop ICE from arresting people at courthouses


 

Federal judge strikes down unlawful Trump “conscience rule”

In November, a federal judge in Spokane ruled that the Trump Administration’s “conscience rule” is unlawful, a ruling that allowed Washingtonians to continue to receive a full range of health care services. This ruling also provides an extra layer of protection against appeal by the Trump Administration.

Trump’s “conscience rule” would expand the health care workers ability to deny a patient access to medical care and services for moral or religious reasons, with no exception for medical emergencies. Under the rule, if the federal government believed Washington, its health care institutions, or other recipients of federal health care funds violated the rule, the federal government would be allowed to cut off all health care funding to the state. That is more than $10 billion per year that Washington state relies on for essential public health programs, HIV/AIDS and STD prevention and education, and substance abuse and mental health treatment.

My lawsuit argues that the rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, as it is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion while violating several federal laws. The rule also violates the Affordable Care Act, which expressly bars the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from adopting regulations that deny patients timely access to medical care, interfere with provider patient communications, or undermine informed consent or medical ethics.

The judge agreed with my lawsuit, which represents our 24th consecutive legal victory against the Trump Administration. My office will continue to protect the rural and working poor Washingtonian families who have no alternatives to their local health care providers, as well as LGBTQ individuals who already face discrimination when seeking medical care.
 

The Hill

Second federal judge strikes down Trump 'conscience protection' rule for health care providers
 


Photo of in-store sign

Judge rules for-profit Value Village violated the law, misled Washingtonians

After my office received numerous complaints from consumers who felt deceived by Value Village’s advertising, I filed a consumer protection lawsuit in 2017 against Bellevue-based TVI Inc., the company that owns Value Village. Our lawsuit asserted that Value Village’s conduct violates Washington’s Consumer Protection Act and the Charitable Solicitations Act.

This November, King County Superior Court Judge Roger Rogoff ruled that from 2009 to today, for-profit Value Village deceived consumers into believing the company is a nonprofit or a charity and that purchases benefited charities, when they do not. The judge ruled that Value Village knew or should have known its advertising was deceptive.

Value Village is a for-profit business that brings in $1 billion in revenue annually.  Importantly, Value Village knew that its advertising had the capacity to deceive consumers based on marketing studies that it commissioned and testimony from its former chief executive officer. Judge Rogoff also found that Value Village misled Washingtonians in thinking their purchases benefit charities. They do not, and never have.

Contrary to Value Village's marketing, for years, some types of donations — including furniture and housewares — did not benefit charities at all. Others provided far less benefit than consumers were led to believe, or did not go to the charity indicated to donors.

Value Village profited by misleading Washingtonians into believing that it was a nonprofit. As a watchdog for Washington consumers, I will continue to listen to and defend consumers against unfair or deceptive conduct in the marketplace and when false or misleading charitable solicitations are made.
 

Seattle Times

Value Village’s marketing deceived customers, judge rules in case brought by Washington attorney general  
 


 

Liberator Pistol 3D Gun

Trump Administration’s action allowing release of 3D printed gun data files struck down

My office filed a lawsuit in July 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, arguing that the Trump Administration efforts to allow the distribution of downloadable 3D-printed firearms were unlawful.

Judge Robert Lasnik granted our motion for summary judgment, meaning the case will not need to go to trial. The judge ruled that the Trump Administration’s decision to allow the unlimited distribution of data files for 3D-printed guns was arbitrary, capricious and unlawful.

Prior to this favorable ruling, I successfully introduced agency-request legislation to ban the manufacture or possession of untraceable, undetectable 3D-printed guns in Washington. The new law also prohibits sending a printable gun file to a person who is ineligible to possess firearms. I support the Second Amendment. However, we cannot allow felons and other dangerous individuals to get around our state’s background check requirements by printing untraceable, undetectable 3D-printed guns.
 

KING-5 News

Judge rules release of 3D-printed gun plans violated law


 

Lawsuit filed against veterans charity that misused hundreds of thousands of dollars

This November, I filed a lawsuit against non-profit Veterans Independent Enterprises of Washington (VIEW) and its operations manager, Rosemary Hibbler for misappropriating charitable funds. My lawsuit asserts that the organization, Hibbler and its board members, Donald Hutt and Gary Peterson, violated the Charitable Trust Act, the Nonprofit Corporation Act and the Consumer Protection Act.

After I filed my lawsuit, the judge granted my request for the appointment of an interim receiver. A local attorney and veteran, Dan Bugbee was appointed by the court and has taken over management of VIEW, including its bank accounts, operations and properties, until permanent and effective leadership can step in. Shortly after Bugbee’s appointment, veterans and community members began donating money, time, and vehicles to the newly managed VIEW non-profit to help keep it in operation and continue its positive impact on the community. Currently, the non-profit is back on track to provide services for veterans in the community.

My office’s investigation into VIEW and its management uncovered hundreds of questionable or unlawful transactions on the VIEW bank card. These withdrawals amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars, including ATM withdrawals at casinos, paying personal IRS debts, paying personal cable TV bills, and rent payments to Hibbler’s landlord. Meanwhile, VIEW failed to pay for repairs to veteran housing, wages to its veteran employees, and, at one point, laid off its entire staff and asked them to “volunteer” their labor. To learn more about VIEW, its violations and decline, click here.

VIEW’s management and its board abandoned its mission to help veterans. It is shameful that Hibbler spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal bills and casinos, while leaving veteran housing to deteriorate and its employees unpaid. Speaking as a son of a veteran, I take that seriously.

KING-5 News
Judge ousts leaders, orders emergency takeover of Pierce County veterans charity

Outpouring of community support for embattled Pierce Co. veterans charity
 


Office Depot to pay $900,000 over deceptive virus screening

Our office investigated Office Depot’s deceptive computer repair sales practices after being alerted by news reports from KIRO TV consumer advocate Jesse Jones. Until late 2016, Office Depot used variations of “PC Health Check,” a software program that led consumers to purchase diagnosis and repair services costing up to $200 regardless of whether their computer was actually infected with viruses or malware.

In 2012, an Office Depot employee notified management that the software reported malware symptoms on a computer that “didn’t have anything wrong with it.” Despite this knowledge, from 2012 to 2016, Office Depot sold these repair services to an estimated 14,000 Washington customers.

Office Depot will pay $900,000 to resolve our investigation. Additionally, as part of the legally binding agreement with Washington, Office Depot is prohibited from using deceptive programs to sell repair services and ensure its software is not deceptive. Washington is the only state to garner an agreement in addition to a $35 million national settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for similar conduct. That FTC settlement will provide restitution for impacted consumers. Click here for more information on FTC action.

I’ve decided to set aside the $900,000 until the FTC concludes its process for providing restitution to individuals harmed by Office Depot’s unfair and deceptive conduct. If the number of consumers filing claims results in less than full restitution for Washington consumers, our office will use its payment to provide additional funds to Washingtonians with the goal of making them whole. Otherwise, today’s resolution with Washington will be used to recoup the costs of bringing the investigation and lawsuit, and fund the ongoing consumer protection work of the Attorney General’s Office.

There are plenty of scammers online trying to trick Washingtonians or sell them bogus software. Consumers should be able to trust that an established national retail chain is not deceiving them. This resolution ensures that Office Depot will live up to the faith consumers place in them.
 

KIRO7

Office Depot insider speaks out about unnecessary computer fixes

 

FTC

Office Depot and Tech Support Firm Will Pay $35 Million to Settle FTC Allegations…


 

Ivory figurine

First-ever conviction under Animal Trafficking Act

In April 2019, I filed criminal charges against Donald Frank Rooney at the request of the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office for violation of the Washington Animal Trafficking Act (WATA). These charges against Rooney were among the first brought under WATA.

WATA makes it a felony to sell, purchase, trade or distribute parts of specific endangered or vulnerable species of elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, lion, leopard, cheetah, pangolin, marine turtle, shark or ray. WATA was established by voter-approved Initiative 1401 in 2015 and took affect in 2016. More information about the Washington Animal Trafficking Act is available here.

In late 2017, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife detectives contacted Rooney after reviewing online listings for items they believed may contain elephant ivory. The detective went to Rooney’s home, and observed dozens of items that possibly contained ivory. The detective purchased three items believed to contain elephant ivory, which genetic testing confirmed. Officers later executed a search warrant on his home, and, as a result, confiscated more than 1,500 additional items. As part of the sentencing, Rooney must forfeit these as well.

Washington voters sent a clear message that trafficking in items made from these endangered species will not be tolerated. This first-ever conviction under this important voter-approved initiative puts traffickers on notice — you will be prosecuted.

MyEverettNews
Everett Man To Forfeit 1500 Items In Case Involving Endangered Species


 

AG report shows data breaches increased in 2019

On November 29, I released my fourth annual Data Breach Report. The report shows that data breaches increased by nearly 20 percent in 2019. The report also shows that breaches affected fewer Washingtonians in 2019 due to the relative size of the breaches.

My Data Breach Report relies on legally required notifications from businesses and state agencies that experienced breaches between July 2018 and July 2019. Between these dates, data breaches impacted 390,000 Washingtonians. This represents a significant total decrease from 2018, when data breaches impacted 3.4 million Washingtonians, mainly due to a mega-breach reported that year by credit-reporting firm Equifax.

The number of Washingtonians impacted by only small to mid-size breaches more than doubled in 2019 — from 180,000 to 390,000. This report highlights that data breaches remain a serious threat to our privacy.

In 2019 the legislature unanomously approved my propsal to further protect Washingtonians from data breaches. House Bill 1071 reduced the deadline to notify consumers and the Attorney General’s Office of a data breach from 45 to 30 days, and expanded the definition of “personally identifiable information”. The bill passed both houses unanimously, and will go into effect March 1, 2020.

Find more details about my work on data breaches here.
Find more information about my request legislation - HB 1071 here.

My office will continue to be a watchdog protecting Washingtonians’ privacy.


 

Working across Washington

  • I spoke with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys about public safety and justice in Washington communities, including my office’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, the Sexual Assualt Kit Initiative, and our proposed Cold Case Unit.

 

  • In December, I met some of my office’s recently hired employees and had the privilege of learning about the diverse perspectives and expertise they bring to the AGO. Not only do they bring lots of invaluable work experience, they also have wide-ranging interests outside of work, including carpentry, aviation, volunteer work and travel.

 

  • I visited the University of Washington – Tacoma where I spoke about the federal litigation my office has undertaken to protect the rule of law and hold powerful interests accountable. I did this by discussing the first travel ban, how it harmed Washingtonians, my standing to bring the suit, as well as my legal arguments. I also talked about DACA and the public charge rule. I am proud to show students – and possibly future attorneys – how the power of law can be a tool for good, and why it is an important tool to bring a voice to the voiceless.
     
  • I spoke with the Center for Human Services about the impact the opioid crisis has on Washington’s human services programs. I also explained actions my office has taken against Purdue Pharma and the three largest opioid distributors, as well as what Washington is doing to help tackle this opioid epidemic.
     
  • I had the opportunity to sit down with AARP on New Day NW to talk about scam robocalls. We discussed who’s most affected, common types of calls, and steps people can take to verify if the call is real, what to do if victimized by a scammer, and why citizens should report scam calls.
     
  • I had the honor of speaking at the Companis Healthy Communities Biennial Celebration of 25 years of non-profit volunteer organizing. I spoke with them about how my own volunteer opportunities with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps led to some of my most memorable experiences and lessons. As a community volunteer, I learned that listening is central to social justice, and that the law and courts not can only can give the marginalized a voice, but give them justice. I also spoke about my office’s community outreach, as well as our federal litigation against the travel ban and in defense of Dreamers.
     
  • I spoke at an event called “Meaningful Movies” — one of a series of public screenings of movies and documentaries often focusing on social justice and other meaningful topics. I spoke about my office’s involvement with litigation and policies related to Japanese-American internment. Moreover, how it relates to the travel ban attempted by the Trump Administration. I also spoke about the important civil rights lessons learned from Fred Korematsu, the subject of the events documentary.
     
  • This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Centennial Accord, a document signed by then-Gov. Booth Gardner and tribal leaders affirming tribal sovereignty and setting out new structure for communication and problem-solving between governments. I had the opportunity to speak to Washington tribal leaders at their annual meeting with the state under the Accord. I shared my office’s work on areas of mutual interest, such as our lawsuit challenging a federal effort to weaken the Endangered Species Act, as well as issues of particular importance to our tribal partners, such as supporting the legal defense of the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Native American Voting Rights Act. I also shared about my office’s first-of-its-kind Tribal Consent and Consultation Policy, centered on obtaining free, prior and informed consent before my office takes certain actions that could impact tribes. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to strengthen our relationships with Washington’s tribal nations.

 

  • I was given the opportunity to speak at a Veterans Appreciation Luncheon at the Bellingham Technical College. The Bellingham Tech Foundation recently funded a new veteran resource center that provides free food, a space to meet, computers, printing and tutoring for veterans in the community. I shared the various ways my office works to honor and protect our veteran consumers and help them access legal assistance.
     

 

 


 

 
 

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