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Judge allows Tim Eyman, Pierce County to join I-976 lawsuit

A King County judge is allowing Tim Eyman and Pierce County to join the lawsuit over the voter-approved $30 car-tab initiative.

SEATTLE — A King County Superior Court judge granted a motion to allow Tim Eyman to join a lawsuit over the voter-approved $30 car-tab measure but denied a motion to appoint outside counsel to defend the lawsuit.

Judge Marshall Ferguson issued multiple written rulings on Friday allowing Eyman, who sponsored the initiative, and Pierce County to join the case. He rejected a request for outside counsel, which Eyman claimed would act as “adult supervision” over the state Attorney General’s Office.

Last month, Judge Ferguson granted an injunction temporarily blocking I-976 after a coalition, which includes King County and the city of Seattle, sued to prevent the measure from taking effect. Judge Ferguson cited “substantial concerns” that the initiative’s description on the ballot was misleading.

Also see | Washington Supreme Court upholds judge's decision to temporarily block I-976

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office is leading the defense for I-976, which is standard with voter-approved measures. Eyman accused Attorney General Bob Ferguson of botching the defense, saying it was “rife with errors and omissions.”

The Attorney General’s Office currently has a campaign finance lawsuit against Eyman. Eyman said the state defending I-976 has become a conflict of interest. In November, Washington state Sen. Steve O’Ban urged the Attorney General’s Office to remove itself from defending the lawsuit and to hire outside counsel saying, “Washingtonians deserve to have their laws defended by unbiased legal advocates free of conflicts.”

Eyman also claimed the Attorney General’s Office overlooked a possible conflict of interest by not asking for a change in venue. Since King County is one of the plaintiffs in the injunction, Eyman argued the case should be heard outside the county.

The Pierce County Council voted this week to offer support, assistance, and resources to the Attorney General’s Office as it defends I-976. On Friday, Judge Ferguson granted the motion for Pierce County to join the lawsuit.

Also see | I-976 ruling is an ‘absolute insult’ to Pierce County voters, senator says

Nearly 66% of Pierce County voters backed the initiative for cheaper car tabs during the November election. Pierce County voters rejected the Sound Transit 3 measure in 2016. However, the votes were combined with King and Snohomish counties and the measure passed, increasing car-tab fees for drivers in those counties.

Judge Ferguson also granted a request to intervene from Franklin County Commissioner Clint Didier.

“There were no surprises in today’s rulings,” Attorney General Ferguson said in a statement Friday. “We did not oppose the motions to intervene from Clint Didier, Permanent Offense, Tim Eyman, and Pierce County. As expected, those motions were granted. We welcome them to the case. We were not surprised the judge denied the motion to appoint outside counsel.”

The state’s budget office estimates the passage of I-976 eliminates more than $4 billion in tax revenue by 2025. Sound Transit is preparing for up to $20 billion in losses for future transportation projects.

Until a final ruling on I-976 is made, the effects of the initiative cannot go into effect.

Also see | I-976 blows $478 million hole in state transportation budget

The Associated Press contributed to this report.