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Lawmaker wants outside counsel to defend possible I-976 lawsuit

Washington State Sen. Steve O'Ban wants outside counsel to defend I-976 against a possible lawsuit instead of Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

SEATTLE — Washington state Sen. Steve O’Ban urged the Attorney General’s Office to remove itself from defending a potential lawsuit challenging the $30 car-tab initiative, claiming the office would be biased.

O’Ban, a Republican who has pushed for lower car-tab fees, wrote a letter to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson urging the state to hire outside counsel to defend Initiative 976, which voters approved last week.

“Washingtonians deserve to have their laws defended by unbiased legal advocates free of conflicts,” O’Ban wrote in a letter sent Monday.

RELATED: When will car tabs cost $30 in Washington?

Several King County leaders, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine, have already vowed to file a joint lawsuit challenging I-976, which will cap car tabs at $30. The initiative could cost state and local governments over $4 billion in revenue over the next six years, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

O’Ban claimed that pending litigation “raises concerns” about the Attorney General’s Office ability to defend I-976. 

Ferguson has filed a campaign finance lawsuit against anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman, who is the prime sponsor of the initiative.

RELATED: Associates of Tim Eyman ordered to pay $1 million for campaign kickbacks

The Washington Supreme Court also heard arguments last month in a class-action lawsuit claiming Sound Transit unconstitutionally collected car-tab taxes for the mass transit package Sound Transit 3. Ferguson’s office is defending the state in that case.

“At a minimum, this raises concerns about your office's ability to approach legal challenges to Initiative 976 free of bias,” O’Ban wrote. “At the most extreme this puts into question the degree of diligence and effort your office would put into defending the Initiative.”

Ferguson said he would respond directly to O'Ban, and denied that his office would do a poor job simply because I-976 is an Eyman initiative. 

"When the people pass an initiative, it is the job of the Attorney General's Office to defend that initiative against legal challenges," Ferguson said in a statement. "That's a responsibility my office takes very seriously. The office has defended Tim Eyman initiatives in the past, most recently I-1366, which was decided in May of 2016.”