The legal community and the public here in Southwest Washington will soon have the unique opportunity of watching our state's highest court in action. On May 13, 2014, the justices of the Washington State Supreme Court will hear arguments in several cases in the Gaiser Student Center at Clark College. The Court, which usually operates out of Olympia, sometimes travels to other cities to hear cases. Although the setting will be different than the Court's usual home in the Temple of Justice on the Capitol campus, the cases heard are real and the decisions to be made just as important and binding as those heard in Olympia. While here, the Court will hear three cases, which will begin at 9:00 am, 9:55 am, and 1:30 pm. There will be Q & A sessions following the second and third cases.
The Washington State Supreme Court is the “court of last resort” in our state. It is asked to hear more than a thousand cases each year, most of which come to the court on appeal from decisions of the state Court of Appeals. Some Superior (trial) Court cases can be appealed directly to the State Supreme Court. In the State Supreme Court, as in other appellate courts, no witnesses are called or other evidence taken. The Court hears and decides only legal issues, and relies on the factual record developed at the trial court level. The State Supreme Court has the power to decide which cases it will review. It is very selective and will usually only agree to review a case that involves an issue which has given rise to conflicting appellate court decisions, one that presents an important constitutional issue, or a case that would allow it to address an issue of substantial public importance. During each four month session the Court hears oral argument in about 45 cases. A majority decision on an issue or case requires that at least five of the nine justices agree. Such decisions then become the law of our state on the issues that are decided, binding on any other cases which may later present the same issues.
A few of us at Schauermann Thayer Jacobs Staples & Edwards PS have had the privilege of arguing cases on behalf of clients in front of the State Supreme Court. Bill Thayer has enjoyed the opportunity to appear before and argue four cases to the State Supreme Court over the course of his 33 plus years of practicing law to date. Several of those cases involved important state and federal constitutional issues that resulted in State Supreme Court decisions which have been oft-cited by lower courts since. More recently, Craig Schauermann and Scott Staples brought the case of Weismann v. Safeco Ins. Co. (paired with another case called Matsyuk v. State Farm which dealt with the same key issue) before the Court in 2012, on behalf of a client who was being denied the full benefits of an auto insurance policy. Craig and Scott briefed the case together, and Scott presented the oral argument on the case at the Court of Appeals level as well as at the State Supreme Court level. Our State Supreme Court heard the arguments in that case in May 2011, and decided the case in favor of our client in an opinion handed down in February 2012. The Weissman case stands as a key decision confirming certain important rights of auto insurance consumers to be treated fairly by insurers.
Clark College is located at 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, in Vancouver. For additional information about the hearings at Clark College please contact Michelle Golder at [email protected], or 360-992-2543.