Author Archive for David Brown

Two Companies Ordered to Pay Over $24 Million to King County Small Business Owners

SEATTLE — Two companies and their owners have been ordered to pay over $24 million to King County small business owners.

A King County Superior Court judge has ordered CA Certificate Service and Labor Poster Compliance to more than 15,000 business owners that were deceived by the companies. The judge said that both companies based their business models on deceiving small business owners.

Both companies sent a total of 232,091 letters to residents that appeared to be from the government demanding payments of about $85 each for posters or certificates and implying they were mandatory for businesses. The companies bulked a total of $1.27 million out of area business owners for free posters and certificates that business owners can obtain from state and federal agencies.

The lawsuit was filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson in March against Florida-based CA Certificate Service and Labor Poster Compliance as well as their owners. The Washington Secretary of State issued an alert about the scam by CA Certificate Service in March of 2019 yet the company continued to do business in the state until Ferguson filed the lawsuit.

King County Superior Court Judge David Whedbee ordered the companies to repay all Washington businesses involved their full payments in addition to pre-judgment interest.

The court found that the companies had committed 232,091 separate violations of the Consumer Protection Act.

The judge also ordered that both companies be permanently blocked from mailing any letters into the state of Washington that are associated in any way with an invoice or a bill that a consumer must pay. The companies also cannot send any more letters that appear to be from a government at any level or a person working for any level of government.

It is believed that the companies made more than $5.3 million in profits from their deceptive schemes across the nation. Although businesses and other states have also been affected by the two companies’ deception, the judgment, in this case, is the first one against the businesses that have resulted in the findings of the companies being liable for breaking the law.

Apple AirTags Under Suit for Alleged Stalking Hazard

Two women have filed a lawsuit against Apple, claiming that their ex-boyfriends used AirTags to track their movements in real-time. The suit alleges that the technology company negligently released a dangerous device and minimized concerns about threats surrounding AirTags while misrepresenting the safety of the product. Since AirTags’ commercial launch, people have complained that they are easy to misuse and enable stalkers to keep tabs on their victims.

“AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products,” a statement from Apple read.

The lawsuit further claims that Apple recklessly placed AirTags in the hands of stalkers and abusers. It alleges that the company should have foreseen the potential for misuse, adding that Apple was aware of reports of malicious AirTag usage before it released the product. The suit also says that Apple “failed to take reasonable steps to provide consumers with adequate disclosures about AirTag’s threat as a stalking device.”

Apple has taken steps to address safety and privacy concerns related to AirTags since its release. These include an alert when setting up an AirTag informing users that stalking is illegal and law enforcement can access personal information associated with an AirTag owner. However, critics have argued that these measures are not enough and do not adequately protect victims of stalking.

The lawsuit seeks damages related to the alleged misuse of AirTags, including emotional distress and punitive damages. It also demands that Apple take further steps to protect against possible misuses of its product, such as providing an opt-out option for users who do not want their personal information shared with law enforcement or making it more difficult for someone to access AirTag data without authorization. Additionally, the suit asks that Apple provide greater transparency about potential risks associated with using AirTags and impose a waiting period before allowing customers to buy multiple devices at once. If successful, this case could set an important precedent in establishing companies’ responsibility when designing products that can be potentially used for illicit activities.

12 Arrested on Sexual Offenses Against Children

CHEHALIS, Wash.—Twelve people were arrested this weekend as part of a multi-agency investigation  of the sexual abuse and exploitation of children touted as “Operation Net Nanny.”

Michael A. Gillette, 31, and Tyler D. Clark, 23, both of Chehalis, Justin Hinchliffe, 43, of Olympia, Gerry G. Greatreaks, 50, Vancouver, Zachary Case, 21, Belfair, Adis Lao Cirlo-Hernandez, 23, Centralia, Leonardo Tranquilino, 31, Centralia, Wayne A. Rigby,72, Shelton, Douglas R. Clark, 45, Rochester, Robert E. Morrison, 65, Kelso, Antonio T. Nolasco, 36, Shelton, and Mario A. Fernandez, 33, of Napavine, were arrested as part of the investigation. They were taken into custody in Lewis County.

The investigation was conducted by the Washington State Patrol (WSP), local Lewis County law enforcement agencies and several partner agencies. It is the 20th operation spearheaded by the WSP’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force (MECTF), an Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) affiliate. Since the first operation in August 2015, MECTF has made 312 arrests and removed more than 31 children from danger across the state through police intervention.

The cases will be reviewed by the Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for charges against the 12 people arrested. They are facing possible charges of rape of a child, a first-degree felony, attempted rape of a child, a second-degree felony, communication of a minor for immoral purposes and sexual exploitation of a minor.

“It is unfortunate that there are some that are actively preying on children. However, it is reassuring to know that so many agencies are willing to respond to help hold those people accountable,” said Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer. “We are thankful for the federal and state agencies that conducted this operation and the support of multiple local agencies. Coordination of law enforcement partners is vital to help ensure the safety of the people of Lewis County.”

The primary mission of Operation Net Nanny is to target anyone involved in child abuse and child exploitation via the Internet.

“We were proud to participate with the WSP MECTF and the other public safety partners in this very important operation focused on keeping children safe from those who prey on them in our communities,” said Lewis County Sheriff Robert Snaza. “Dedicated partnerships are what make operations such as these a success!”

Family Still Fighting for Justice After Horrific 2018 Car Crash

On the night of December 7, 2018, Donald J. and Wilma Smith were driving along Route 39 in Washington Township when they were struck head-on by a Cadillac SRX. The driver – Yellow Creek Township Trustee Glenn McKenzie – reportedly lost control of his vehicle, crossed over the center, and struck the Smiths in the other lane.

A teenager named Amber Lynn Korbel and a passenger were behind the Smiths in a Chevy Impala. When McKenzie struck the Smiths, Korbel consequently hit them from behind. Though Korbel and her passenger did not sustain any injuries, McKenzie and the Smiths had to be airlifted to the hospital.

Due to the damage and injuries, Wilma Smith and her husband’s estate filed a lawsuit against McKenzie, Korbel, and their insurance company Ohio Mutual Insurance Group.

McKenzie was accused of driving under the influence, making him the subject of a wrongful death claim. Also, John and Helen’s Tavern, the American Legion John Adams Post 442, and the Tangerine Lounge were also part of the lawsuit. They were hit with a liquor liability claim due to the belief that they irresponsibly served McKenzie alcohol that night.

Korbel was named in the suit as she was believed to be following too closely behind the Smiths. And the insurance company was named on an allegation that there was a breach of contract in regard to the amount of uninsured motorist coverage that the Smiths were supposed to have.

Though a new lawsuit was recently filed, McKenzie has already been judged and sentenced. At first, he admitted to being guilty of driving under the influence, as well as two counts each of vehicular assault and aggravated vehicular assault. His punishment was set to 45 months in prison and having his license stripped for the rest of his life.

Later, he appealed this sentence and the case went back to court. After some consideration, the court knocked nine months off of his prison time. The 411 days that he had already served counted toward his sentence, leaving him with less than two years to go. Additionally, they only suspended his license for a decade and ordered him to pay $208,890 in restitution to the victims.

It Isn’t Mad Fish Disease, But It’s Not Nice, Either

We all do it. We buy a package of salmon, never thinking how the fish was raised. The sad truth is that the salmon was raised inside a mesh cage sized like a city block instead of swimming free in the ocean. It’s called net-pen farming, and Washington is joining California, Oregon, and Alaska in putting an end to it.

What’s Wrong With Commercial Fish Farming?

Let’s begin with caging something: you’ll have a waste problem, disease will spread from penned salmon to wild fish, there are lethal sea lice infestations, as well as products to kill parasites and other pests getting into the water. The price of salmon world-wide has risen as the result of such environmental issues.

Add to this the fact that the water in which the salmon are raised is used by the public. The net pen farming companies such as Cooke Aquaculture, who harvest salmon in Puget Sound pen farms, do nothing to filter or treat the water for impurities before its use by humans.

Since the net pen farm spill upheaval in 2017, the Cooke company’s pen leases have been canceled. The company’s operations in other countries were also closely inspected. All were found to be not compliant with state and industry safety guidelines and shut down.

As Cooke switches from salmon to steelhead, the tribes along with the population of Washington state are worried. They wonder about the farming of fish and its consequences for the wild fish in the area. Their own health and wellness are naturally matters of concern as well.

What’s The Answer?

Advocates of building a better mousetrap suggest containment facilities on land. Wild fish won’t swim by and become tainted with sea lice. The snag to that idea is not enough fish could be raised to answer the needs of ten billion people world-wide.

Better pens in the oceans, complete with filtering systems, easier methods of protecting the salmon from pests and parasites, in addition to better methods of cleaning up the waste, have been suggested, too. Both scenarios are being considered as the deadline for establishment of better methods draws nearer.

As the world population grows, food production becomes the question: can we double or triple food production? Can we do it without harming the Earth or the people needing that food? Banning net pen farms was a good start.

A Lawsuit Against the Saudi Crown Prince Has Been Dismissed

Filing civil or criminal charges against a foreign leader in court is always hazardous, and that appears to be the case with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Following the execution-style murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia, who was a journalist for the Washington Post at the time, there was a furious uproar in the direction of Saudi Arabia. He was killed at the Saudi consulate located in Istanbul, creating a suspicious backdrop that the killing was somehow politically motivated. Many people believed that the Saudi Crown Prince was responsible for trying to stifle free speech, including in the United States.

Unfortunately, political matters appear to have taken control of the situation. Right now, gas prices are going through the roof, many people are struggling to afford the price of gas, and OPEC appears to be moving closer to Russia and further from the West. The visit to Saudi Arabia by Joe Biden appears to be a failure, as OPEC recently announced they would slash oil production, despite the shortage of oil throughout most parts of the developed world.

Now, the lawsuit filed against the Saudi Crown Prince has been dismissed, coming shortly after the Biden Administration recommended that the Justice Department grant Mohammed bin Salman immunity. The administration is claiming that there is no precedent for filing charges, criminal or civil, against a foreign head of state, and that they are acting consistent with prior administrations; however, there are other people, particularly the director of DAWN, who believe that the people responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi should be held accountable.

Because the Biden administration does not appear to want to pursue the case against the Saudi Crown Prince, the lawsuit was dismissed. There are some people who believe that the Saudi Crown Prince was promoted to his office in an effort to avoid potential liability for the events surrounding Jamal Khashoggi. The United States still has intelligence agents trying to uncover information related to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but for now, the dismissal appears to be an effort to strengthen relationships with Saudi Arabia, a country that has an exceptionally poor human rights record. It remains to be seen what impact this dismissal will have.

Top Things to Consider When Choosing the Best Divorce Attorney

Going through a divorce can be one of the most challenging things you ever have to face. Financial stress can be difficult enough, but the emotional and mental impact can take a heavy toll – sometimes leading to even physical health issues. Splitting assets and figuring out how to start over is rough, and it’s worse if you have children involved.

Considering everything you already have to deal with, it’s essential that you find a good divorce attorney to help lighten the load. The following are some of the most important things to look for when looking for your attorney.

Experience

It’s vital that you hire an attorney that knows how to handle your case. The best way to do this is to first look for someone who has experience in family law in general.

After narrowing down your options, dig in more deeply to determine who has experience with any specifics involved in your divorce, such as child custody or your particular financial assets. The more familiar they are with your type of situation, the better they’ll be able to manage it.

Good Client Reviews

Next, you’ll want to look into reviews from former and current clients. You can typically find these on their websites, but you can also check Google and even ask others who live in your area on community social media pages.

Open and Honest Communication

You need an attorney that will be open with you from the start. You don’t need any surprises coming from the person who is supposed to have your interests in mind. A consultation with an attorney should provide you with a good feel for them, as should any reviews you find.

Reasonable Price of Services

There are several things that can determine how much an attorney charges. For example, if you’re able to complete your divorce in family court, it will cost less than it will if you take it in front of a judge or a jury. The amount of prep it takes your lawyer will also play a role.

The attorney’s experience level can also impact their rates. Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn’t go to a less experienced attorney just to save money. You want your case handled properly. Instead, consider hiring an attorney that offers a reasonable set rate instead of working for an hourly one.

This is a sensitive time for you, so it’s important that you have representation that’s truly on your side. Take some time to research your options and set up consultations before making a final decision.

COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Might Be Rescinded in New Annual Defense Bill

The annual defense bill is set to address some important military issues, including pay increases and an analysis of the Armed Forces’ suicide rate. There is also work to rescind the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for service members – a pretty hot topic.

When the mandate was first put in place, there was a mix of strong opinions on the subject. And though it was eventually accepted by most – grudgingly, by many – those strong opinions haven’t changed. In fact, they might be stronger than ever before now that the effects of such a decision have been seen.

Some people, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, believe that making the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for service members is no different than the many other vaccinations they are given. And as the vaccine kept troops healthy, there should be no reason for a change.

Others, such as Rep. Mike Rogers, believe that since the President said the pandemic is over, there should be no reason the vaccine is still mandatory. He feels, along with many others, as though the COVID-19 vaccine mandate hurt recruitment and retention in the armed forces. By rescinding it, the number of enlisted personnel will increase or at least allow the defense community to focus on other obstacles.

Of course, there are parties that feel the vaccine mandate was just a drop in the bucket that impacted enlistment. During the pandemic, recruiters were not able to go to schools and other events as they normally do to encourage young people to enlist.

Additionally, there are many high school teenagers and young adults that simply cannot meet the military’s requirements. This is typically due to their physical health, the presence of tattoos, criminal records, and more.

While the inability to recruit and a lack of suitable recruits might play a role in the challenges that the U.S. military faces, there are some factors pertaining to the vaccine that cannot be ignored. For example, over 8,000 service members got discharged from their respective branches because they refused the vaccine. And over 15,000 service men and women have asked for exemption due to their religion or other factors.

With so many active duty personnel either being discharged or asking for permission not to have to take the vaccine, it’s not a stretch that a large number of prospective recruits would decide not to join for the same reason. It’s numbers like these that have many representatives asking that the mandate be rescinded and eagerly awaiting Congress’s response.

Oregon Joins Washington by Filing Amicus Brief over Albertsons Shareholders’ Dividends

The proposed merger of the Albertsons and Kroger supermarket chains hit a rough patch in November when the state of Oregon filed an amicus brief supporting Washington state’s opposition to issuing $4 billion in dividends to Albertsons’ shareholders before the companies’ $20 billion merger.

The payout is regarded by some as a violation of antitrust laws put in place as safeguards to prevent smaller, independent grocery stores from getting edged out of business.

The Oregon Attorney General, Ellen Rosenblum, filed the amicus brief through the agency’s antitrust office to support the state of Washington’s position.

Albertsons is the parent company of Safeway, while QFC and Fred Meyer both come under the Kroger umbrella. Rosenblum expressed concern that four QFC, 51 Fred Meyer, and 121 Albertsons stores would be adversely affected if the merger proceeds. She urged delaying paying dividends.

Bob Ferguson, the Attorney General of Washington, stated that both grocery stores have a total of 330 locations in Washington alone, far outpacing their competitors.

According to The Seattle Times, Superior Court Commissioner Henry Judson issued a temporary ruling in King County blocking the payments to shareholders. That delay will allow the court to determine whether the proposed acquisition is lawful and ready to proceed.

Oregon’s Department of Justice cited in the brief that “competition and consumer welfare in Oregon as well as other jurisdictions” will be affected adversely by the dividend payout prior to the adjudication of the antitrust litigation.

The payments will be stayed during the pendency of the court’s proceedings regarding the antitrust allegations. Ferguson alleged that according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), cash-strapped Albertsons has just over half of the amount to be paid out to shareholders. The company would need to turn to lenders to borrow the balance for shareholder dividends.

In their amicus brief, Oregon’s Department of Justice claims the pending merger of the supermarket giants could interfere with “the economic dynamism that competition promotes.”

Thus far, the state of Oregon’s intervention has solely been about dividend payments. But the content of the brief also clarifies that Rosenblum remains uneasy about the potential ramifications of the merger for the two Pacific Northwest neighbor states.

Changes to Washington State Long-Term-Care Law Could Come as the State Seeks Solvency

WA Cares is the existing and mandatory long-term-care program in the state of Washington. The meeting of the Long-Term Issues and Supports Trust Commission was a busy one where much was discussed. This included solvency predictions, numerous commission recommendations, and a new actuarial report. With that being said, let’s discuss the situation surrounding WA Cares as it exists right now.

What is the Plan for WA Cares?

First, the WA Cares program will be funded by money from workers of every income level. The state will do this in order to attempt to decrease its Medicaid budget and compensate family caregivers using taxpayer money. However, the impact of doing so might not be universally positive.

Some caregivers and Washington residents could benefit financially from this approach. Others might not fare so well. All workers will have at least 58 cents, if not more, of every $100 they earn diverted to funding WA Cares.

These workers could have used this money for other purposes or simply saved it for future needs. It is also possible that the safety net WA Cares will create could benefit more than just those in need. Despite this, it is difficult to accurately predict the future impact of this program.

Is WA Cares Solvent or Not?

As you might expect, this question doesn’t have a simple yes or no answer. Under some scenarios, the WA Cares fund could remain solvent until June of 2098 at the current tax rate of .58%. In other scenarios, the WA Cares fund will not remain solvent until this date. To put it as simply as possible, the solvency of WA Cares is a gray area, but overall, it seems unlikely that the program’s $36,500 lifetime benefit will be sufficient for the long-term care needs of Washington workers.

What Changes Could Be Made to WA Cares?

One change that could be made to the program is portability. In other words, if this change was made, Washington workers who are younger than 67 years old and who have paid in for at least a year could get the lifetime benefit. People who are over the retirement age would not have to continue paying into the program.

Another recommendation is to let people who opted out of WA Cares get their opt-out rescinded. Portability and the possible requirement for recertification are two reasons why some might opt out of WA Cares. Some of these changes are more likely than others, but it is important to keep them in mind regardless.

What is the Future for WA Cares?

The future of the WA Cares program is uncertain. The state of Washington might amend the law, even more, to try to improve the program. The commission will adopt a final recommendations report at its meeting on December 9th and the Legislature will consider these recommendations in the coming session. Stay tuned for future updates on the WA Cares situation and how it will impact Washington workers.