Supreme Court visits Tacoma for public hearings

// Court hears three appeals to criminal convictions

Washington’s State Supreme Court held a public hearing on three actual court cases for students and legal eagles to view on the campus of University of Puget Sound last week.

The current Supreme Court is at an historic point on two counts. Chief Justice Barbara Madsen is the first female Chief Justice of the state’s highest court. She presides at a time when the majority of the justices are women, another first. The high court last visited Tacoma in May 2005 at Tacoma Community College. They also visited the Puyallup campus of Pierce College in 2009.

The recent “have gavel, will travel” event at UPS was meant to provide the public the opportunity to observe the justice system in action and to pose non-case related questions to the nine judges. This “traveling court” is part of the Supreme Court’s policy of providing open access to communities.

Attorneys for each side explained their legal arguments for review.

“The members of the court see the traveling court initiative as an opportunity to give people a first-hand experience with the justice system, “Madsen said. “We believe that when people see the way the system works, and can ask questions of the justices, they will have confidence in the fairness of the decision making process and in the decision makers.  We try to take some of the mystery out of the decisional process. Hearing the questions and interacting with the students and public members also gives us information about where the courts can do a better job in meeting the needs of the people we serve. Additionally, the court uses these trips as a chance to encourage the next generation of leaders to consider the law as a profession, or at least to emphasize the role and importance of the law in the life of the broader community.” 

UPS Junior Carolea Casas is a history major but comes from a family with a long history of law enforcement careers. As a teen, Casas also had a job in a worker’s compensation firm.

She loved watching the high court in action.

“It’s all about the details,” she said, noting that she hasn’t ruled out a career in law. “This is like being a kid in a candy store for me. This is a big deal.”

The day prior, a panel discussion including several of the justices presented the topic of “Legal Issues in Diversity.” Panelists explored recent controversial legal issues, including rulings relating to same-sex marriage and affirmative action in college admissions.

The court visit and the panel are sponsored by the School of Business and Leadership and the Office of the President at University of Puget Sound. The Supreme Court visit came as the university celebrated its 125th anniversary and provided a natural opportunity to reflect on the advancement of legal justice since 1888. Those legal changes include Washington statehood and women’s rights to vote and serve on a jury.

And here we are flash forwarded to today, with a female Chief Justice and a female majority on the state’s highest court, courtesy of more than a hundred years of marching toward equality.

“As a female chief justice, I do not see myself so much as a trail blazer as a beneficiary of the incredible sacrifices and hard work of so many who came before me, Madsen said. “But, I also recognize the excitement and pride that many women feel when they learn that our state Supreme Court is led by a female justice.  Women of all ages have expressed this; older women often remark that a goal has been achieved while younger women see me, and the other women justices, as role models -- even ‘rock stars.’ A female majority of justices reflects the number of females in the population -- what is surprising is how long it has taken to come to this balance, which just reflects the real world.”

What would be your ruling?

At the court sessions at University of Puget Sound, attorneys for each side explained their legal arguments for the Supreme Court to consider. The three appeal cases were:

State v. Kipp: William John Kipp was convicted of child abuse. At the jury trial in 2009, the defense tried to suppress a recording of a conversation between Kipp and the father of the two girls he was accused of assaulting. Kipp’s defense argued that the recording was made without Kipp’s knowledge or consent and therefore was a “private conversation,” not admissible under the Privacy Act. This argument was rejected and the recording was heard by the court. Kipp has now appealed his conviction, citing the Privacy Act. His case is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union.

State v. Coley: Blayne Jeffrey Coley was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor in 2008. The presiding judge in the case questioned Coley’s mental stability, and medical examinations followed. A state medical examiner concluded he was competent, while a defense expert stated he was not. Coley claimed he was not mentally competent to stand trial and that the prosecutor had to prove his competence. The court disagreed and ruled that the burden was on Coley to prove his incompetence. After his conviction, Coley won an appeal on the question. That last judgment is now being contested by the state.

State v. MacDicken: Abraham MacDicken was convicted of robbing two people at a Lynnwood hotel at gunpoint. When he was arrested in 2010, the police took his laptop bag and duffel bag from his car, placing them where MacDicken could not easily reach them. The police searched the bags and used the evidence at trial. MacDicken argues that recent Supreme Court rulings make it necessary for police to have a warrant if they search belongings in a location where the accused cannot access or tamper with the goods. MacDicken is asking the court to reverse his conviction and to order that the items found inside the bag, including a gun, women’s clothing and a letter to one of the robbery victims, be suppressed in a new trial.

For full details about the cases, visit: The decisions of the court will be posted on the Administrative Office of the Court's website.


Sound Transit - Tacoma Trestle Project Clear Choice Cannabis

Letter to the Editor

If you would like to contact us directly, please submit a Letter to the Editor here.