State asks judge to reexamine COVID-19 lawsuit jurisdiction

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Clockwise from top left, Chelan County Superior Court Judge Kristin Ferrera, plaintiffs' attorney Joel Ard with lead plantiff Jose Luis Cuevas, Deputy Attorney General Zach Jones, and Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even in a Zoom hearing June 3.

WENATCHEE — The state Attorney General’s office wants Judge Kristin Ferrera to reconsider her ruling that keeps a lawsuit against Gov. Jay Inslee in the Chelan County courts.

Local plaintiffs want the judge to overturn the governor’s emergency health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, and allow businesses in the Wenatchee Valley and elsewhere to reopen. The state’s first move was a request to move the case to Thurston County, and Ferrera denied that motion June 3.

On Friday, the state filed a motion for reconsideration, which the plaintiffs oppose and call “a second bite at the apple.” Ferrera has yet to schedule a hearing on that motion, or any other issue in the case. The Attorney General could also seek change of venue in a higher court.

The case was brought by 46 local plaintiffs, including members of the Wenatchee City Council; pastors of Grace City Church; clothing store owner and state Republican committeewoman Marcy Collins; Wenatchee restaurateurs Kevin Smith and Shon Smith; and NCWLIFE host and former state representative Cary Condotta. All allege Inslee’s March 23 “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” executive order and others restricting commerce to suppress the spread of coronavirus overstepped his authority, and have needlessly damaged the local economy.

The suit was one of four near-identical claims filed in four different Washington counties, including Douglas County, led by plaintiffs’ attorney Joel Ard. The Douglas County plaintiffs, who included all three county commissioners, withdrew their suit, and many of them have since joined the Chelan County case.

“Stay Home, Stay Healthy” expired June 1 and was replaced by Inslee’s Safe Start Washington proclamations, which set up four-phased restarts for counties based on their progress in battling COVID-19. Chelan County, like its neighbor Douglas County, is still classified in Phase 1, and much of its economic activity remains frozen.

The two counties have applied to the state to move into a “modified Phase 1” and restart some elements of the Valley economy. As of Wednesday morning, the state Department of Health had not acted on their request.