Liquor Control, the Law, and a Quote

LIQUOR CONTROL

Last summer, Costco Wholesale fired a shot across the broad bow of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, threatening legal action if the state did nothing to bring its creaking 70-year-old wine-distribution regulations into harmony with federal law. Instead of talking turkey, the liquor commission and the state attorney general's office hunkered down and refused even to discuss changes in the system, so on Friday, Feb. 20, Costco's attorneys filed suit in U.S. District Court against the AG, members of the board— collectively and individually—and, for good measure, the King County prosecutor, who's in charge of enforcing the regs in Costco's home county. Costco bases its case primarily on the Sherman Antitrust Act, which forbids arbitrary restraints on competition in interstate trade. Costco's lawyers cite 13 provisions in state law which, they say, require Costco's wine and beer suppliers to, among other things, "refuse to give quantity or other discounts" and "maintain the same delivered prices for all customers regardless of competitive differences." Federal law doesn't forbid all state interference in the marketplace, but federal judges have become more demanding that a state show how such interference produces public benefit. Costco's attorneys are confident that Washington's rules can't meet that standard. If they're right, taxpayers might end up paying for the state's stonewalling; Costco's asking the court to make the state pay the costs of its lawsuit. ROGER DOWNEY

THE LAW

The Washington State Bar Association ended 2003 with a record 34 of its members disbarred, compared to 20 a year earlier. The reasons, says bar spokesperson Judy Barrett, include catching up with a years-old backlog and—as we all suspected—a relentless increase in the number of practicing lawyers: There were 17,800 in 1993, 24,519 lawyers today. That has also given rise to cases of lawyers gone wild. One attorney was disbarred in 2003 for forging the name of a police officer killed in the line of duty 16 years earlier. Another was sent packing for growing dope and using speed, and one was disbarred for urging his client to work at an escort service to pay her legal tab. But one of the more memorable disciplinary moments involved the suspension, not disbarment, of Forrest L. Dexter, who told a fellow attorney quizzing him during a 1999 deposition that he would not give her his address and "as far as having sex with you, forget it. I'm not interested." Said the other attorney: "Mr. Dexter, please do not pose any personal comments to me of that kind. This is a deposition. Could you please restrict it to the questions asked?" Dexter answered: "I was just responding to your request and I refuse to have sex with you under any circumstances." He then wrote the attorney a letter stating: "Your attempt to expose yourself by spreading your legs from time to time during the deposition . . . disgusts me. Please keep your legs together whenever in my presence." The bar found Dexter's statements to be false, among other things. RICK ANDERSON

QUOTE

"I once asked my wife, Grace, if I really was a money-grubbing, soul-less leech, and she said, 'Yes,' but she smiled."—Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln (Puget Sound Business Journal, Feb. 20)

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