While the city of Spokane’s legal department is hammering away at language for a motion to change the city’s charter and allow the ouster of the mayor, and while the five experts from the city-appointed investigation panel are just getting acquainted, and while the FBI is merely pondering a full-blown investigation of mayoral misconduct — while all those preliminaries are going on, Shannon Sullivan is actually doing something about the Jim West fiasco. The former florist and single mom is sitting before a Superior Court judge and two tough lawyers and — frazzled, ill-prepared, out of her element — she’s defending her petition to recall the mayor. She takes on the system alone. And wins.
But not without a fight. The mood in the Spokane County courtroom on Monday was tense as Sullivan answered questions from visiting judge Craig Matheson. Articulate but struggling to keep up with the legal process, Sullivan stumbled occasionally, interjecting when she shouldn’t have, continually reclarifying her motions and allegations. Meanwhile Spokane County Bar Association President Susan Troppmann, one of Jim West’s lawyers, lit into her for being sloppy and unprepared, occasionally throwing up her hands in frustration and refuting each of Sullivan’s claims as either irrelevant or insufficient.
When Judge Matheson called a recess, Sullivan paced and consulted with a handful of supporters in the audience. As she headed for the door and heard Q-6 reporter Tobby Hatley announce that Michael Jackson had been acquitted of all charges, she muttered, “Sounds good for Mayor West.”
A few hours later, Sullivan was crying tears of joy, as the judge announced that one of her allegations — that Mayor West had used his office to “solicit internships for young men for his own personal uses” — was sufficient to move the petition along.
“I was pretty confident. I knew I had a case,” Sullivan told The Inlander on Tuesday. Of West’s lawyers, she adds, “I’d have their butts fired. I don’t even have a law degree, and I was more familiar with the recall law than they were.”
But not everyone has shared that confidence. In fact, few predicted that Sullivan’s quest would make it this far, especially considering her lack of legal expertise and the fact that not only have no lawyers stepped up to represent her, no one from any of the many groups (Republicans, Democrats, Chamber of Commerce, city council) that have called for West’s resignation have contacted her, either.
Sullivan says she’s had to rely on the Gonzaga legal library for guidance. She adds that after the mayor’s last press conference, big-shot attorney Shaun Cross vowed to support the recall but then sent Sullivan to attorney Steve Hughes, saying he could help her. Hughes, she says, only urged her to strike the recall petition altogether. Sure, Cross has been behind the recall, she says – “with his binoculars.”
Since her victory in court, Sullivan says she’s heard from “hundreds” of people who would like to help gather signatures, and she and a few sympathizers have not only formed an organization to bolster their cause — the Citizens for Integrity in Government — but they’ve launched a Web site (westmustgo.com) to spread the word.
But before they can solicit their first autograph, they have to wait for West to respond. The mayor now has 15 days to file an appeal and take the case to the state Supreme Court. On Monday night, the mayor issued a statement saying he’s discussing the matter with his attorneys and is “strongly considering appeal.” If they go that route, the state’s highest court will have 30 days to arrange a hearing.
And though Sullivan’s team beat the odds in Superior Court this week, getting a recall through the state Supreme Court is notoriously difficult. Of the 28 or so cases that have come forward since 1976, only four have made it out alive.
City Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers says she hopes the court will send the case back to the voters in Spokane and wonders why the mayor has fought the recall so diligently when he indicated in his press conference that he would abide by the will of the people. “If that’s the case, why would you appeal it?” she asks. “I took that he meant that in good faith. [But] I don’t think he thought the recall had a chance.”
“He should honor his word,” says Sullivan, who says West should not appeal. “I honored mine to see this thing through. I held up my end of the bargain. I want to know if Mayor West is going to hold up his.”