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UPDATE | County wins in legal challenge against shooting ban at Deer Lagoon

A lawsuit challenging Island County’s ban on shooting at Deer Lagoon was dismissed in Island County Superior Court on Thursday.

The suit was filed on Nov. 10 on behalf of William Burnside Jr., a hunter who lives in Freeland, and the Washington Waterfowl Association, a nonprofit hunters’ group based in Edmonds that has chapters across the state. The suit claimed the county violated the due process provisions of the Washington and United States constitutions, and said county commissioners adopted the restrictions on shooting at Deer Lagoon without conducting ballistic studies that would support the ban.

Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock ruled that the challenge was filed too late, county officials said late last week, but the judge also said the board of commissioners acted properly when passing the shooting ordinance, and the county was not in violation of state law protecting firearm rights.

“I’m pleased with the outcome and it is what I had expected,” said Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson.

“I felt like we were within our legislative authority, and that was upheld by the judge,” she said.

The lawsuit also asked the court to repeal the ordinance that created the ban, and said the county hadn’t shown that hunters using birdshot at the popular duck-hunting spot had ever jeopardized people, domestic animals or property near Deer Lagoon.

John E. Justice, a private attorney hired by the Washington Counties Risk Pool to represent Island County in the case, said the county prevailed on two major points.

The first was the late date of the filing; lawsuits that challenge ordinances must be brought within 20 days of the adoption of the contested ordinance.

“In this case it was 29 days after the ordinance had been adopted,” Justice said.

“That was a fatal problem with their case.”

The ruling came after a one-hour hearing in Coupeville last week that was based on an exchange of legal briefs and a review of the records in the case; no witnesses testified.

Justice said the judge also looked closely at the claims made by the plaintiffs that said commissioners should have considered more evidence before adopting the shooting ban, and whether county commissioners were arbitrary and capricious when making their decision to halt shooting at Deer Lagoon.

“The court addressed that thoroughly, and determined that commissioners had acted well within their legislative authority in reaching the conclusions that they reached about the risk to persons, property and domestic animals in Deer Lagoon [from shooting],” Justice said.

The lawsuit came to a speedy finish because those seeking to overturn the shooting ban had asked for a preliminary injunction that would have stopped the county from enforcing the ban, and wanted it in place before the end of duck-hunting season. Justice then filed a cross motion to dismiss the case.

“That brought the issue very quickly to the court’s resolution,” he said.

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