Appellate Courts To Hear Cases Affecting Client Communities

John Midgley, Of Counsel

Columbia Legal Services (CLS) works for justice and equity for our clients in many arenas, including public policy work, innovative community partnerships, and work in the courts to assert and expand our clients’ rights. During June and July our work in federal and state appellate courts takes center stage, as CLS Lawyers will be representing clients in five cases which have been granted review because of the important issues at stake.

These cases argued by CLS will determine important legal rights for thousands of people across the state: workers and farm workers, children who have been made wards of the state in dependency hearings, and home-owners seeking to avoid foreclosure. As these cases demonstrate, CLS’s impact advocacy can have a profound impact on the lives of clients when we challenge the legal interpretation and practical effects of rights to a safe and fair livelihood, the legal voice when family relationships are attenuated, and the meaningful protection afforded to homeowners. Here is some information about each of the cases and the court and date for each hearing:  

Workers fired for acting to protect public policy (Washington State Supreme Court, oral argument June 9): Truck driver Charlie  Rose was fired for refusing to violate federal highway safety rules that prohibit driving a truck more than 60 hours in a week. The Washington State Supreme Court will decide whether Mr. Rose can sue his former employer in state court for “wrongful termination.” CLS attorney Andrea Schmitt – with our Working Fami-lies Project – along with a Spokane lawyer represented Mr. Rose and Ms. Schmitt presented the argument.

Homeowners denied foreclosure mediation when state agency decided it wasn’t mortgage ownership that determined whether mediation was available, but whatever entity was “servicing” the mortgage loan for mortgage giant Freddie Mac (Washington State Supreme Court, oral argument June 23): Darlene Brown faced foreclosure and hoped to avoid it through mediation under Washington’s Foreclosure Fairness Act. She was denied mediation by the Department of Commerce, which administers the FFA, because the bank that was “servicing” the Freddie Mac-owned mortgage loan is exempt from mediation. If Freddie Mac had tried to foreclose directly or through a non-exempt bank servicer, Ms. Brown would have been referred to mediation. The Washington Supreme Court will decide if mediation must be provided based on the identity of the mortgage owner or the identity of the servicer. CLS and the Northwest Justice Project represent Ms. Brown. CLS attorney Amy Crewdson with our Working Families Project's Foreclosure Work Group will argue the case.

Under Washington’s Deed of Trust Act, when the beneficiary of a mortgage note is not the owner of the note and the foreclosure trustee knows the beneficiary is not the owner, can the trustee record a notice of trustee’s sale and proceed with foreclosure? (Washington State Supreme Court, oral argument June 23): Rocio Trujillo faced foreclosure but challenged the process in her case because the loan servicer initiating foreclosure was not the owner of the note and the trustee knew the servicer was not the owner. The Washington State Supreme Court will decide whether the Deed of Trust Act requires the trustee to have proof that the beneficiary is the owner, and not someone who “holds” but does not own the loan obligation. CLS attorney Matt Geyman with our Working Families Project's Foreclosure Work Group will represent Ms. Trujillo at the hearing.

Workers’ rights to basic employment information and compliance with state law (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, oral argument July 8): A large corporation based in Boston owns farms in Washington and hired a management company to work the farms, which in turn hired another company to hire and supervise farm workers. The workers on the farms claimed they were paid different wages from what was promised and faced other abuses including threats and intimidation. A federal court judge decided that the workers were entitled to damages because the company bringing in the workers violated Washington’s Farm Labor Contractor Act by failing to provide important employment information to the workers that could have prevented the abuses and had not obtained a required license and bond to protect workers. The judge also held that the other two companies were liable because they “knowingly” employed this unlicensed contractor. The U.S Court of Appeals will decide whether these decisions were correct. Lori Isley, managing attorney of the Working Families Project will present argument for the workers.

Foster children’s constitutional right to counsel in dependency and termination hearings (Washington State Court of Appeals, oral argument July 10): MMR and ADR are children who have been in foster care for several years. Both have special needs related to disabilities and mental health issues and have had multiple moves and disruptions during their time in care. Their parents asked the dependency court, which decides whether children are placed in and remain in foster care, to appoint lawyers for the children in order to have their legal rights protected. The court denied the request and the mother is asking the Court of Appeals to intervene and hold that the children have a state and federal constitutional right to have a lawyer, as has been required in many other states. Casey Trupin, managing attorney of our Children and Youth Project, will argue that the court should accept review of the case.