After four years of hearings, appeals, and even a state Supreme Court case, a lawsuit seeking to end the Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods was back in Thurston County Superior Court on Friday morning.
The hearing was met by about 25 demonstrators who gathered outside of the county courthouse to support the boycott, carrying signs that read, “Support peace not apartheid,” “We must stand together to build a better world,” and “Support our Olympia Food Co-op and our right to boycott.”
Long-time co-op member Mike Hubbard was among those demonstrating. He said he showed up to support the board members and speak against the frivolous lawsuit.
“I believe the co-op had a right to boycott Israeli goods,” Hubbard said. “So I’m going to come out and support them.”
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Craig Corrie, of the Rachel Corrie Foundation, said that the case now stands for more than just the boycott. He said he believes the case now represents the battle for free speech and an accessible court system.
“I believe people need access to the courts, but (the plaintiffs) are trying to eliminate free speech by running up legal expenses,” Corrie said.
The case was remanded back to the local court in May after the Supreme Court struck down the state’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute, which allowed many speech-base cases to be thrown out early in the process.
The lawsuit, filed by five Olympia Food Co-op members in 2011, alleges that the co-op’s board enacted the boycott of Israeli goods in violation of its own policies because it did not first reach consensus among its members. The defendants are 16 people who served on the co-op board at the time of or after the boycott was adopted.
One of the defendants is now deceased, and only one currently serves on the board, according to attorney Bruce Johnson, who represents the defendants.
In 2012, now-retired Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee threw out the case and ordered the plaintiffs to pay the defendants $160,000 as part of a mandatory “anti-SLAPP penalty,” along with more than $60,000 in attorney’s fees.
That decision was upheld by the state Court of Appeals in 2014, but later struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015.
With the Supreme Court’s decision, the case has essentially been brought back to square one.
At the Friday morning hearing, Judge Erik Price ruled on a motion by attorney Avi Lipman, who represents the plaintiffs, to compel discovery.
Lipman argued that his clients had been waiting years for discovery, while Johnson said he believes the case will be thrown out again, when the court hears a motion to dismiss in February of next year.
“We will establish that there is no basis for this suit at all,” Johnson said. “And the question is, do we want to waste everybody’s time during discovery?”
Lipman argued that because the argument for dismissal hadn’t been brought before the court yet, it was irrelevant.
“They’re just digging their heels in and saying, ‘Because we have a motion to dismiss, we don’t have to do anything,’ ” Lipman said.
Price ruled that he would permit written discovery prior to the February hearing, but not depositions.