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September 1, 2011 at 9:55 AM

McKenna wins health-care suit, loses Goldmark case in state Supreme Court

Posted by Andrew Garber

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna won one and lost one in two decisions handed down by the state Supreme Court on Thursday.

The court ruled McKenna was within his rights to join more than a dozen other attorneys general in the effort to challenge the national health-care law approved by a Democratic Congress last year.

But in a second case, the court ruled McKenna's office must represent state Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark in a case dealing with whether to allow a public-utility district to run a power line on Okanogan County property owned by state Department of Natural Resources.

In the power line case, Goldmark last year lost a court battle that allowed the Okanogan Public Utility District (PUD) to condemn state trust lands so it could build a new transmission line across the property. McKenna declined to appeal on behalf of the state, so Goldmark asked the state Supreme Court to force him.

The court on Thursday ruled that state law "expressly requires the attorney general to represent the commissioner in any court when so requested by the commissioner. This duty is mandatory, and the attorney general has no discretion to deny the commissioner legal representation."

In the health-care case, McKenna joined other attorneys general last year in the effort led by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum to file a suit claiming, in part, that Congress doesn't have the constitutional right to force people to get health coverage.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes later sued McKenna, arguing he overstepped his authority.

The state Supreme Court ruled that "the people of the state of Washington have, by statute, vested the attorney general with broad authority, and Attorney General McKenna's decision to sue to enjoin the enforcement of (the health care law) falls within that broad authority. As such, Attorney General McKenna has no mandatory duty to withdraw the State from the multistate litigation."

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