Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for March, 2011

Exonerated Auburn Pot Defendant: Don’t Drive Buzzed

by March 21st, 2011

Last week I reported on a Washington State appeals court ruling affirming a King County Superior Court decision to reverse Auburn Municipal Court convictions of Dustin B. Gauntt for possession of less than 40 grams of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Gauntt admitted to the basic facts of the case which led to his arrest after being spotted by Auburn Police while driving and holding a pipe to his mouth. But Auburn had not expressly adopted the state statutes in question into the city’s municipal code, ultimately prompting the dismissal of the charges first in county court and then again last week by a state judicial panel after the city appealed. Auburn has until early April to decide whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court the second strike against their prosecution of Gauntt.

When I was writing up my original report for our Public Data Ferret news and knowledge base site last week, it was clear that beyond the plain facts of the case there was a person about whom the legal documents said nothing and about whom I knew nothing. I left a message for Gauntt through his attorney, and I spoke to Gauntt this weekend in a phone interview.

Gauntt graduated from high school in Port Angeles, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. He’s 26 years of age, and has lived in the South King County city of Auburn for about five years, working in a warehouse. While still employed there, he’s been attending Green River Community College to complete a two-year degree in design and drafting. Gauntt says he’s aiming to land a job with a company such as Boeing upon graduation.

Asked about the incident which led to his arrest and subsequent conviction in Auburn Municipal Court prior to the county and state appeals court reversals, Gauntt said he believes “smoking pot while driving is a very stupid idea. I’m not condoning that at all.” The overturning of the conviction, he said, is ímportant personally, especially because he will be seeking new full-time employment after getting his two-year degree from the community college. Gauntt added, “Ï don’t consider myself a criminal. I’m a good person. I pay my taxes. I wasn’t responsible back then; I am now. I’m trying to elevate myself in life, going to school, and trying to get a good job.”

While the city of Auburn mulls whether to appeal the latest rejection of its conviction of Gauntt in its municipal court, Gauntt says that on the topic of drugs and the law, “there are bigger fish to fry. There’s a huge methamphetamine problem here in Auburn and South King County. And meth causes so much more damage to people’s bodies and to society.”

Gauntt added he believes that marijuana should be legalized, regulated and taxed. The revenues could be a “huge benefit,” he said, particularly if directed toward public health needs and programs.

The Washington state legislature has been considering a bill that would legalize and tax marijuana.

Guantt’s attorney was David Richard Kirschenbaum. Auburn has been represented by City Attorney Daniel Heid.

Appeals Court Upholds Dismissal Of Auburn Pot Conviction

by March 17th, 2011

SUMMARY: A state appeals court this week rejected an attempt by the City of Auburn to reverse a King County Superior Court ruling which threw out convictions in Auburn Municipal Court against Dustin B. Gauntt, a driver stopped and cited by local police for possession of marijuana and related paraphernalia. The county and appeals court rulings both found that the convictions in local court weren’t valid because the city’s municipal code did not explicitly adopt the actual state laws against possession of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia.

Public Data Ferret Courts Archive

BACKGROUND:

  • According to the City of Auburn’s appeals court brief, on December 5, 2008 Dustin B. Gauntt was stopped by local police who had seen him raise a pipe to his mouth and inhale what appeared to be marijuana. After investigating, they cited him for possession of less than 40 grams of marijuana and for possession of drug paraphernalia, contrary – the charges stated – to state law and the city code.
  • Gauntt sought to have charges dismissed in the local court, arguing that city code did not include the state’s mandatory minimum sentences for the crimes with which he was charged. His claim was rejected. He agreed there was no dispute to the facts of the case, then was tried and found guilty on June 8, 2009 on both charges in an Auburn Municipal Court bench trial.
  • However, Gauntt appealed his city court convictions to King County Superior Court on grounds the city lacked jurisdiction because it hadn’t actually adopted into its municipal code the state laws against possessing marijuana and related paraphernalia. Superior Court Judge Michael J. Trickey found in his favor, reversing Auburn Municipal Court and remanding the case to the lower court for dismissal. But the City of Auburn in July 2010 asked for reconsideration of the case in the state Court of Appeals, which issued its ruling this week.

KEY LINK: City of Auburn v. Dustin B. Gauntt, Opinion of Court of Appeals, Washington State, District 1, March 14, 2011.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • The state appeals court ruling this week in Auburn v. Gauntt emphasized that “municipal courts are creatures of the legislature,” and that “when, as here, a crime adopted under state law has not been expressly adopted by city code, or incorporated into city code by reference to state statute, and no other state statute confers authority to prosecute that statute in municipal court, the city lacks authority to prosecute it in municipal court.”
  • The ruling affirms Judge Trickey’s decision in King County Superior Court, which reversed the municipal court’s findings of guilty and sent the case back there for dismissal. Gauntt was represented by Kent defense attorney David Richard Kirshenbaum.

CITY OF AUBURN MULLING DECISION TO APPEAL TO STATE SUPREME COURT.

The City of Auburn has 30 days from the date of the appeals court ruling to appeal the case up to the State Supreme Court, which might or might not choose to hear the appeal if it is requested. City Attorney Daniel Heid said today no decision has been made yet on whether to appeal.

RELATED:

Economy May Put Pot (Legalization Bill) Back In Play,” Seattle Times, March 16, 2011

UPDATE: Interview with Dustin B. Gauntt, published March 20, 2011.

Unapproved Rate Hike Earns $50K State Fine For Insurer

by March 16th, 2011

SUMMARY: Washington’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner has fined a Philadelphia insurance company $50,000 for enacting unauthorized annual rate hikes of up to 12 percent in student accident and sickness plans and failing to include policy numbers on marketing brochures used by student and parent customers. The company, ACE American Insurance, has agreed to the fine in a consent order and also has returned to enrollees almost $200,000 in increased premiums, plus five percent annual interest for three years. As a condition of the consent order, if the company breaks any Washington laws in the next two years it will have to pay an additional (currently-suspended) fine of $50,000. Another factor in the disciplinary action, according to OIC’s staff atorney, is the company’s “checkered past” in Washington. Ace American has previously paid two five-figure fines to the state for other consumer violations and a series of smaller fines for failing to file required financial data.

Seattle-Nairobi Team Has Better HIV Test For African Infants

by March 15th, 2011

SUMMARY: Early detection of the HIV-1 virus in infants in Africa is a pressing global health concern but current testing tools are too expensive. A team of researchers from the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and institutions in Nairobi, Kenya, has validated a new and far less costly in-house testing tool involving the detection of HIV-1 nucleic acids from filter papers used to collect samples of whole blood or dried blood spots. The researchers recommend the new infant HIV-1 diagnostic tool be developed for integration into “rapid point-of-care” African settings “where the HIV epidemic prevails and resources are limited.”

CBO Director Stresses Rising Public Debt, Taxes, Spending

by March 14th, 2011

SUMMARY: In a public presentation and official blog post last week, U.S. Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas W. Elmendorf warned of rising U.S. public debt. It hit $9 trillion or 62 percent of Gross Domestic Product at year-end 2010, and is projected by the CBO to rise to at least 77 percent of GDP by 2021, or nearly 100 percent if certain current tax breaks are extended, raising the risk of a national fiscal crisis. Elmendorf stated that the growing public debt, driven by deficit spending, necessitates hard decisions by Congress about federal budget and tax policies – in order to reverse course and stimulate income growth and investment while maximizing the benefits of federal spending. He stressed that eliminating waste and inefficiency will not be enough to get the nation’s fiscal house in order and accented the recommendations of the Presidentially-appointed National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, that Congress should cut spending on federal health care programs, defense, agriculture, and military and civil service retirement, while also ending selected federal tax breaks. He recommends Congress aim to settle on the needed fiscal reforms in the near-term – even if they are implemented more gradually – in order to help stabilize the economy.

Washington State Disciplines Health Care Workers

by March 8th, 2011

SUMMARY: The state of Washington last week announced it has indefinitely suspended the license of a registered nursing assistant working in the emergency department of Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland after he was reported for apparent intoxication and impairment by coworkers, then tested positive the same day for alcohol and methadone use, and later failed to respond to state charges of unprofessional conduct. Several new unprofessional conduct cases involving health care workers in Washington have entered the state’s disciplinary pipeline, including a nursing assistant at a Kent adult care family home whose actions allegedly prompted a choking episode involving an autistic, bi-polar resident; a nursing assistant in a Vancouver adult family home who allegedly rubbed a soiled diaper in a patient’s face; and a nursing assistant convicted in December in King County of first-degree theft from a victim described by the sentencing judge as “particularly vulnerable or incapable of resistance.”

BACKGROUND: On March 2, 2011, the Washington State Department of Health published notices of disciplinary actions taken last month affecting individual health care providers. Actions include charges of unprofessional conduct, placing a license or certification on probation or suspension, denying an application for certification or licensing, or lifting terms of probation or suspension. When a service provider is charged with unprofessional conduct, they have 20 days to respond in writing to the Department of Health, and then a settlement process begins. If no agreement can be reached on disciplinary action then the case goes to a hearing. At the department’s provider credential search engine – and using either the individual provider “identifier number” (given in monthly online notices of actions) or the name of the provider – you can check license or certification status, locate case-specific documents, and track outcomes.

KEY LINKS:

KEY FINDINGS:

The Washington State Department of Health last week announced disciplinary actions affecting 27 health care providers. Selected highlights follow.

  • The department announced last week that the credentials of registered nursing assistant Scott A. Kjorsvik of Kittitas County were indefinitely suspended in late January after he failed to respond within 20 days to charges of unprofessional conduct at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland in May 2010. During a regularly scheduled shift in the emergency department, according the health department’s final order in his case, several other staffers noticed he appeared intoxicated and his conduct impaired, and he later that day tested positive in a urinalysis for alcohol and methadone. Although he was entitled to address the charges of unprofessional conduct, he failed to do so within the required 20 days, leading to the suspension of his credentials. (DOH Final Order).
  • Registered nursing assistant Nkole E. Mola was charged with unprofessional conduct last month for in February, 2008 allegedly causing an inadvertent choking incident leaving red and gasping for air a patient of the Mountain View House adult family care home in Kent, Wash. who had had autism, bi-polar disorder, aphasia and food aggression issues. The reaction occurred after she approached from behind and subdued the patient, then forcefully removed from the patient’s mouth a cookie that was not supposed to have been eaten. (DOH Statement of Charges).
  • Registered nursing assistant Alesha Kay Lair was charged with unprofessional conduct last month after a December 2010 conviction in King County Superior Court for first-degree theft, a Class B felony. The judgement and sentence included the statement that the defendant “knew or should have known that the victim…was particularly vulnerable or incapable of resistance.” (DOH Statement of Charges).
  • Nursing assistant Susan Meade has been charged with unprofessional conduct for in February 2009 allegedly rubbing a soiled disposable diaper into the face of a client at the Angel Brook Estates adult family home in Vancouver, Wash., and for between March and April 2009 calling that resident and another derogatory names a number of times. The state Department of Social and Health Services found she abused residents physically and mentally. (DOH Statement of Charges).

SUBSEQUENT COVERAGE: “Nursing Assistant Accused Of Patient Abuse,” KPTV, Portland, Ore., March 14, 2011