Musical chairs in legal challenge to Inslee’s COVID-19 proclamations

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Clockwise from top left: Chelan County Superior Court Judge Kristin Ferrera, deputy attorney general Zachary Pekelis Jones, plaintiff's attorney Joel Ard, deputy solicitor general Jeffrey Even.

WENATCHEE — Douglas County commissioners have withdrawn one lawsuit to overturn Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home orders, and a Wenatchee city councilmember is no longer a plaintiff in another.

Attorney Joel Ard, who represents clients in four lawsuits challenging Inslee’s authority during the coronavirus pandemic, asked for dismissal Monday in the case he filed just over a week ago in Douglas County Superior Court. His plaintiffs in that action included all three Douglas County commissioners, plus six other men.

A near-identical case in Chelan County court, initially featuring four Wenatchee City Council members as plaintiffs, is now down to three: Councilmember Ruth Esparza was dropped from the list of claimants in a revised court notice filed today.

Superior Court Judge Kristin Ferrera set a Wednesday hearing on whether to maintain the case in local court, or allow transfer to Thurston County, as lawyers for the state Attorney Genral’s office request.

The shifts came after Okanogan County Judge Henry Rawson, hearing the Douglas County case to avoid a conflict of interest, on Friday questioned the presence of commissioners Dan Sutton and Marc Straub as plaintiffs, since they also serve on the Chelan-Douglas Health District administrative board. Esparza likewise serves on the health board to represent Wenatchee.

The health district itself, Rawson suggested, would have better standing as a plaintiff against Inslee in any local court proceeding.

Plaintiffs remaining in the Chelan County case include three other city councilmembers: Linda Herald, Jose Luis Cuevas and Travis Hornby. Like the now-dismissed Douglas County action, the lawsuit claims Inslee’s public health orders have overstepped his authority and needlessly damaged the local economy.

The latest to join the case: Windmill restaurant owner Kevin Smith, whose attempt to reopen last week despite the emergency order was cut short by state liquor inspectors.