A Chelan County judge has denied an injunction on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency order over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Plaintiff’s attorney Joel Ard argued before the court Wednesday that the real emergency was the threat of Washington’s hospitals being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. That didn’t happen. And since the emergency was averted, Ard said now it’s time for Inslee’s emergency order to end. Ard also argued local health districts have authority over the emergency order based on a 2006 law that directs them to plan for influenza pandemics.
Zach Jones argued the case on behalf of the state.
“The Chelan-Douglas Health District declared a state of emergency as well and the health district apparently thinks that an emergency still exists because they haven’t rescinded that state of emergency,” Jones argued Wednesday.
The plaintiffs, representing business owners and individuals in Chelan and Douglas counties, argued that business closures under Phase 1 of reopening are severely impacting their economic wellbeing. But since the lawsuit was filed, Chelan and neighboring Douglas counties moved to a modified Phase 1.5, allowing more businesses to open with restrictions.
Ruth Esparza is one plaintiff who previously spoke with Northwest Public Broadcasting during an earlier phase of the trial. She’s a lawyer in her own small firm and a member of the Wenatchee City Council since 2014. Esparza said at the time that she wasn’t been able to charge clients full retainers and has had to lay off a legal assistant.
“If this continues, no one is going to have a job,” Esparza told NWPB in May. “Our community is dying slowly and surely. We’re going down in flames. And if we don’t do something about it now, I will not have a law firm to sustain because people will not be able to pay attorneys.”
The plaintiffs include dozens of community leaders, including business owners, church leaders, and elected officials from the Wenatchee City Council and the Douglas County Board of Commissioners.
Ultimately, presiding judge Kristin Ferrera sided with the state and did not issue an injunction on the emergency order. She said she didn’t have enough evidence on its current harms to the plaintiffs.
The cases were initially separate, representing individual ones in Chelan and Douglas counties, but were later joined into Chelan County Superior Court. A previous hearing dealt with the topic of venue change, with the state’s attorneys arguing that the case should go to Thurston County, the location of Washington’s state government and where Inslee issued the emergency orders.
Judge Ferrera previously ruled to keep the case in Chelan County.
Enrique Pérez de la Rosa covers central Washington and the Yakima Valley for Northwest Public Broadcasting. On Twitter: @byperezdelarosa