I and another club member, Dave Huttula, watched this case on Channel 22 (TVW) this morning. At first I was a little concerned (as was Dave) - but we had to realign our expectations to remember this is real court, not Law & Order on TV court and it tends to be more messy and less structured for most cases - not just this one.
Attorneys are not as polished as paid actors, they stumble sometimes and as we can see in this case - the Attorney representing OHV users is also an OHV user and he, every now and then, gets emotionally involved and shows his passion for the sport. I personally found that inspiring and I hope the Supreme Court Justices felt the same way.
The attorney representing our case seemed to be struggling a bit in the beginning with his opening argument - then I realized after watching another separate case that that's just how it goes.
The Plaintiff (that's us) has 10 minutes to plead their case, the merits of the complaint etc. What I was not aware of is that ALL of the Supreme Court Justices can, at any time, call him out, ask for clarification or try to poke holes in his theories, and they do - constantly. I relaxed a bit when I saw them do the exact same thing to the Defendant (WA State).
The counsel for the State hinged his entire argument on a 2003 poll that they say determined that only 20% of recreationists using the back roads are doing so for motorized recreation. I believe he is taking the data from surveys that we recreationists honestly fill out and is then twisting it around to use against us. In his theory, let's say a 4-wheeler fills out the form and checks the box saying he goes 4-wheeling, but also checks the boxes for hunting, fishing, hiking and bicycling. We all know it is quite common for 4-wheelers to participate in other outdoor activities - we all love the outdoors and enjoy them every chance we get. Based on the States interpretation of this data - that 4-wheeler is using backroads 20% of the time for 4-wheeling activities and 80% of the time for non-motorized recreation. THAT is the State's sole reasoning for diverting the $9.5 million dollars to State Parks - because 80% of recreationists would receive benefit from the dollars being spent to keep State Parks open.
While it appears that an open ended loophole that is in place will protect the State from ever having to pay the 9.5 million dollars back to the NOVA fund. They indicated that the court cannot force re-payment after 2 years, but it takes two years to get heard by the Supreme Court.
On a positive note, we can still hold out hope that the Supreme Court will rule in our favor and protect this from ever happening again.
Our Attorney, while carefully hop-scotching through the opening arguments, delivered a passionate and demanding closing argument on our behalf. His final statement addressed that we not only had been wronged by the mis-appropriation of the NOVA funds, but that we have been injured as well when our recreation areas were systematically being closed down due to the lack of available grant funding from the NOVA program.
Overall, job well done by our attorney and I look forward to hearing the determination from the Supreme Court Justices.
You can watch the entire hearing here. It's 45 minutes long - get your popcorn and Prozac - you're going to need it...
* The post above is merely my interpretation of the case heard by the Supreme Court today and does not in any way reflect the opinion of my club or the PNW4WDA - this is simply my individual perception of what happened.