Stories and Cases

Our Cases

In pursuit of our mission, the Center represents clients on a wide variety of issues including law enforcement misconduct, public records/open meetings, the First Amendment, family rights, discrimination, land use and environmental protection.

After a cross was burned on the Anderson family’s front lawn in Elk, Washington five years ago, the Center’s lawyers working with the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance brought a civil rights suit in federal court that eventually resulted in a substantial monetary settlement for the family.

Miotke v. Spokane County: Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearing Board, Washington Court of Appeals, Division 3: Successful appeal of Spokane County’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan Amendments expanding the Urban Growth Area on Five Mile Prairie. State Court of Appeals ruled May 29, 2008 that County’s appeal of hearings board rulings was “moot” because county had repealed its decision. See CFJ feature story on Miotke/McHugh cases.

McHugh v. Spokane County: Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearing Board, Washington Court of Appeals, Division 3: Successful appeal of Spokane County’s 2006 Comprehensive Plan Amendments expanding the Urban Growth Area on the West Plains (Flint Road). State Court of Appeals ruled May 29, 2008 that County’s appeal of hearings board rulings was “moot” because county had repealed its decision. See CFJ feature story on Miotke/McHugh cases.

Dan Henderson, Larry Kunz, Neil Membrey, Kasi Harvey-Jarvis and the Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County v. Spokane County (respondent) and McGlades, LLC (intervenor). Petition before the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, decided in September 2008. The case involved a fruit stand that had been expanded into a full-service restaurant in a rural residential area north of Spokane. The board found that the County erred in all six issues raised under the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA), the County’s own comprehensive plan, and the State Environmental Policy Act. The board’s ruling was accompanied by a finding of “invalidity” that was accompanied with a detailed order and time table for the County to come into compliance. The CFJ feature story on the case can be found here.

Southgate Neighborhood Council, Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane, Ginger Patano and Futurewise v. City of Spokane. Pending petition before the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board filed July 25, 2008. Case involves allegation that the City’s decision to proceed with “big box” development on South Regal Street violates the Growth Management Act and the City’s comprehensive plan. See CFJ story “Out of the Box.”

Estate of Otto Zehm & Ann Zehm v. City of Spokane, et al., U.S. Federal District Court case CV 09-80-LRS: This was a civil suit filed in March 0f 2009 on behalf of the family of Otto Zehm alleging violations of Otto Zehm’s civil rights by unwarranted use of deadly force and a concerted effort falsely portray Otto Zehm as the instigator of the violent encounter on March 21, 2006 that led to his fatal injuries. The case was put on hold pending the outcome of federal criminal charges against Spokane police officer Karl F. Thompson, the first of several police officers to come in contact with Otto Zehm during the March 18, 2006 encounter. Thompson was convicted on two charges in November 2011. The civil case went to mediation and led to a settlement that was formally approved by the Spokane City Council on May 21, 2012. Under terms of the settlement, the City will pay the Zehm family $1.67 million in damages. As part of the settlement, the City also commits to training its patrol officers to better recognize and engage people with mental illness.


State v. Charles McNabb, Superior Court no. 03-1-01961-6, Court of Appeals no. 22939-4-III: Defending competent person’s right to refuse food and medical treatment while detained pending trial and challenging constitutionality of force-feeding order. Washington Supreme Court ruled 8-1 on April 10, 2008 that the state’s interest in applying the Department of Corrections’ force-feeding policy “outweigh his [McNabb's] right to refuse artificial means of nutrition and hydration.” Read majority opinion here. Read dissent here.

Christopher Ostrander v. T.H. Madsen et al., Federal District Court no. CS-99-0017-WFN, 9th Cir. Court of appeals no. 00-35506, 00-35538, 00-35541: Civil rights action for police brutality. On First Amendment and other grounds, 9th Circuit affirmed dismissal of counterclaims for defamation and malicious prosecution. Settlement, including compensation, negotiated after remand. Reply Brief: Ostrander v. Madsen

State v. Dayna Christoph, Court of Appeals no. 19112-5-III: The Center represented Ms. Christoph in vacating juvenile conviction based on coerced false confession and ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to discover overwhelming evidence of innocence. On appeal by state, court of appeals affirmed order vacating illegal conviction. Reply Motion to Vacate: State v. Dayna Christoph

State v. Randy McReynolds, 117 Wn. App. 309, 71 P.3d 663 (2003): Filed amicus brief for Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on proper unit of prosecution for possession of stolen property. In published opinion, court of appeals adopted arguments from amicus brief, curbing power of overzealous prosecutors to stack duplicative charges. Amicus Brief: State v. Randy McReynolds

Katherine Knox; Donald Westerman v. Spokane County District Court, Spokane Superior Court No. 00-20585-8-1, and Court of Appeals no. 19951- 7-III: Represented city and county public defenders in obtaining writ of mandamus ordering district court to comply with state-mandated procedures for appointment of counsel in criminal cases. The writ redressed systemic denial of the constitutional right to counsel. Brief: Knox/Westerman v. Spokane County District Court.

To download consultant Sam Pailca’s April 2007 report recommending independent oversight of the Spokane Police Department, see Pailca Report

To download Tim Connor’s 1981 investigation of police violence in Spokane, see Violent Cops?

To download the article about the then-police chief’s response, see Violent Cops Follow-up

Gary Lobe and Farmers Insurance. Because of a disability Gary Lobe needs a wheelchair. After his specially equipped van was destroyed by another driver, Gary lost the ability to drive simply because the insurance company was at first unwilling to pay to replace his vehicle with another that would accommodate his wheelchair. After the Center for Justice prepared a lawsuit on Gary’s behalf, the insurance company agreed to settle and pay for the cost of renting a suitably equipped vehicle. Farmers also informed the Center that it was changing its policy, and would, in future such instances, pay the cost of specially equipped vehicles when they are available to be rented.

Neighborhood Alliance v. Spokane County Lincoln County Superior Court Case #06-2-00107-0. This high-profile case resulted from a public records request that Neighborhood Alliance filed with Spokane County in May 2005 seeking information related to the hiring of Stephen Harris by the County’s Building and Planning Department. Stephen Harris is the son then Spokane County Commission Chairman Phil Harris. Stephen was the third of Harris’s sons hired by the County while Harris served as a county commissioner. The records requests was filed following complaints from county whistleblowers that the hiring was the result of nepotism and that the decision to hire Stephen Harris was actually made before the job announcement was even posted. The records request sought documents that would might verify this accusation. The County denied portions of the request, arguing that the request constituted a request for answers, rather than a request for records. A Lincoln County Superior Court judge granted the County’s motion to dismiss the case in May 2008. The Center appealed and won a partial victory in from a state Court of Appeals panel in August 2009. Both parties appealed to the state Supreme Court which, on September 30, 2011, issued a unanimous decision that the County had violated the state’s public records act, and remanded the case for a new trial to determine the penalties the County should pay as a result. On March 20, 2012 the Spokane County Commissioners voted unanimously to settle the case by paying neighborhood Alliance $400,000.

From 2000 to 2005, the Center for Justice represented Rhubarb Sky LLC, which published Camas Magazine, an independent online magazine. Camas featured the national award-winning investigative reporting of Tim Connor and Larry Shook on River Park Square, convention center expansion, and other issues. The Camas project resulted in several open government actions against the City of Spokane and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which illegally withheld records related to federal loans to River Park Square, brokered through the City of Spokane.

Rhubarb Sky LLC v. Spokane Parking Public Development Authority et al., Superior Court no. 03-20829-7-7: Complaint alleged violation of Open Public Meetings Act. Resolved by settlement agreement. The agency has since been disbanded.

Rhubarb Sky LLC v. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Federal District Court no. CS-03-193-FVS: Freedom of Information Act case against federal agency for illegal withholding of documents concerning controversial “Section 108” loan to River Park Square developer, subsidized by federal guarantee and backed by city’s community development block grant appropriations. Documents produced and attorneys fees awarded on summary judgment. Reply Brief: Rhubarb Sky LLC v. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Tim Connor & Rhubarb Sky LLC v. City of Spokane, Superior Court no. 01-20366-5-8: Public records suit against city for illegal withholding of documents concerning River Park Square. Court found city committed multiple violations of the state public records act and awarded penalties, costs and attorney fees. Center for Justice was co-counsel with Hagens Berman LLC, a major plaintiffs’ class action law firm.

Spokane Research & Defense Fund; Rhubarb Sky LLC v. City of Spokane, Court of Appeals no. 21729-9-III: Center for Justice intervened in SRDF’s action for public disclosure against city, which sought documents also withheld from Camas. As co-counsel with Hagens Berman and Towsley, Brain, Stephens PLLC, Center for Justice appealed adverse superior court and appellate court decisions to supreme court arguing that illegally withheld documents were first sought by Tim Connor and Rhubarb Sky. Court reversed unanimously and remanded case to superior court. Case settled in late 2006 with apology from City of Spokane and payment of penalties, costs and attorney fees.

Our Stories

*Clients Real Names Not Used

My Landlord, the Pirate

Veronica* came to the Center in June, 2013, feeling ambushed by her former landlord. Months earlier she had to be hospitalized for treatment of a skin disorder and depression. She was behind on her rent at the time, and no sooner had she gone into the hospital than her landlord initiated eviction proceedings. The eviction included the removal, by the landlord, of all the belongings in Veronica’s apartment.  Unable to pay the rent or contest the eviction, she also agreed to pay $85 for the initial monthly storage fee at the commercial storage warehouse where her belongings were taken.  After being released from the hospital, Veronica visited the storage facility only to find that none of her belongings were there. They had been taken by the landlord and either sold or given away. The Center investigated and concluded that the landlord had violated state law in its handling of Veronica’s possessions. The Center’s intervention resulted in the return of several costly items, including Veronica’s computer and printer. The landlord also agreed to a $1,000 payment to Veronica for the value of the items that could not be recovered.

Putting Teeth in a Court’s Judgment

Alice* came to us in July 2013 with half a solution to a very personal and most unusual problem. A year earlier she had been admitted to the emergency room at a local hospital with an infection in her heel. The infection required  emergency surgery. As she was about to be wheeled from her hospital room to surgery, her dentures were routinely taken from. Afterwards, while recovering from her operation, she asked to have her teeth returned. Her request was in vain. Not only had the hospital lost her dentures, but hospital personnel responded to her request with the harsh news that the hospital is not responsible for lost or stolen items. Having gone to the hospital with one health problem, Alice found herself leaving with another health problem, one caused by the hospital. She was without her dentures, and—as certified by a local health clinic—Alice was thus forced to make unhealthy changes to her diet to avoid choking on food that she could no longer properly chew. She finally decided she would take her cause to Small Claims Court.  In March 2013, a judge awarded her payment of an amount of money sufficient to buy a new pair of dentures. But that didn’t solve the problem either because she was unable to collect payment on the judgment from the hospital. She contacted a collection agency, but the fee the agency demanded would have been half the value of the judgment, and still leave Alice unable to purchase new dentures. The Center’s Community Advocacy staff took up the challenge from there and contacted the hospital’s risk management department, alerting them to the court judgment. Within days the hospital agreed to make the payment in the full amount, which enabled Alice to buy a new set of dentures and return to a healthy diet where she can enjoy real food again.

Help for the Holidays


Julia* came to the Center for Justice a few days before Christmas. She is 57 years-old and lives her life in the shadow of a mother’s deepest tragedy. Her only child was senselessly and brutally murdered four and a half years ago. It is more than enough for one person to carry around, to try to absorb while holding on to one’s faith, and to try to heal with the passage of time.

Read More

The Great Scooter Odyssey

“Jazzy,” the elusive scooter.

Dan* came to the Center because he was poor, in pain, and had lost his Medicare-funded, motorized scooter while on a trip to see his mother in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His plan was to get to Tulsa by bus, leaving Spokane on the Greyhound line and then switching, in Montana, to the Jefferson line that serves the central U.S.

Read More

Getting it Straight with the State

The story of Celia’s* failing health is not for the faint of heart. By the time she turned fifty she was blind and afflicted with numerous other major health problems, everything from osteoporosis, to arthritis, to hypertension and anxiety disorder. She was on nearly 20 prescription medications. Despite being bound to a wheelchair, Celia’s life is still enjoyable and she remains bright, engaged, and well-organized.

Read More

Bring it on

Marissa* was being treated for a diagnosed mental health problem when she came to us in the throes of a personal crisis. Tired that her long-time boyfriend was filching money from her, she ended the relationship. Perhaps sensing her vulnerability, the boyfriend retaliated by bringing a small claims case against her, alleging that she had failed to reimburse him for repairs to her automobile that he had paid out of his pocket to the mechanics.

Read More

An unwarranted seizure

Irene* got into trouble with the law when sheriff’s deputies observed what they believed to be illegal drug purchases being made from her home in the Spokane Valley. Using a warrant, deputies searched her home and arrested her after finding small amounts of illegal drugs. She was eventually cleared of the charges by reason of incompetency related to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Read More

The pain, the money and the supervisor

Morris* came to the Center after reaching what looked to be a dead end in dealing with a local school district and an unscrupulous and hostile supervisor. Prior to his difficulties, he thought he’d found his niche as a substitute school bus driver. Although he suffers from painful immune system disorders, he was able to enjoy his work as a driver and the district seemed to value his services.

Read More

A refund from the Heartbreak Motel

“What can we do for you?”

An idea for safekeeping

Good driver, bad checks

Moving out and moving on

New life, new job

The boyfriend’s truck

Siding isn’t free

New accident, old car

A year of overtime

A painter goes to court

Checking the checks

A big pile of bills

Old record, new dream

Troubled by a landlord

The father and the principal

Good question

Double troubles

A nurse’s dream

A daughter’s pain

The parking lot

The scooter

The wheelchair

The caregiver