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Breaking: Free speech victory in Washington state

By Michelle Malkin  •  April 26, 2007 12:38 PM

There’s an important breaking court decision on a political free speech case involving my friends at KVI radio in Seattle. A reader e-mails:

A unanimous Washington state supreme court ruling, issued this morning, reversed a lower court ruling that held radio commentary by Seattle’s
KVI-570’s Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson made “in-kind” contributions when
they promoted an anti-gas tax voter initiative on their shows in 2005.

Majority Opinion by Justice Barbara Madsen.

Concurring opinion by Justice James Johnson, scolding the abusive prosecutors.

Seattle Times coverage:

The state Supreme Court said in an opinion released this morning that KVI talk show hosts did not need to report their advocacy for an anti-gas tax campaign as an in-kind political contribution. And the court has reinstated a countersuit filed by the No New Gas Tax (NNGT) campaign against local governments that initially sued.

We hold that RCW 42.17.090 did not require NNGT to disclose the value of KVI’s radio broadcasts supporting the initiative campaign as an in-kind contribution. The statutory media exemption, RCW 42.17.020(15)(b)(iv), excludes from the definition of “contribution” political advocacy for or against a political campaign by the hosts of a regularly scheduled talk show, broadcast by a radio station that is not controlled by a candidate or political committee. We reverse the order dismissing NNGT’s counterclaims and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The opinion was unanimous. The majority opinion was written by Justice Barbara Madsen and signed by Chief Gerry Alexander and justices Tom Chambers, Charles Johnson, Susan Owens, Mary Fairhurst and Bobbe Bridge. Justices Jim Johnson wrote a concurrence, which Justice Richard Sanders also signed, saying:

Today we are confronted with an example of abusive prosecution by several local governments. San Juan County and the cities of Seattle, Auburn, and Kent (hereinafter Municipalities) determined to file a legal action ostensibly for disclosure of radio time spent discussing a proposed initiative. This litigation was actually for the purpose of restricting or silencing political opponents and was quickly dismissed after the filing deadline for the initiative.

Johnson and Sanders say the case showed a “disregard for core freedoms of speech and association.”

KVI host John Carlson told the Times: “It’s a great day for freedom of speech in Washington and great day for freedom of speech in America. I am stunned that it was 9-nothing. I thought we would win but rarely do you see the court come down 9-nothing.

“There was a lot at stake if this decision had been upheld. Basically radio commentary would have become de facto advertising and free speech would have been commercial speech.”

Previous: Free speech fight in Washington state

My friend and former KVI host Brian Maloney has tracked the case–which he rightly characterized as a stealthy attempt to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine– closely: See here and here for background.

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