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Homeless camp legal challenge can’t be anonymous, Thurston County judge says

An anonymous business owner in Olympia cannot continue to challenge the city’s sanctioned homeless camp in court without revealing his name, a Thurston County judge ruled Friday.

The business owner, identified only as John Doe 10, was among those who tried to stop the camp’s opening on a city-owned parking lot at Olympia Avenue Northeast and Franklin Street Northeast in December.

Plaintiffs argued the city had violated its ordinance on homeless camps, which limits the size of camps and requires organizers to meet with nearby property owners. In this case, the city waived those requirements days before the camp opened, citing a public health emergency the City Council had declared months before.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon denied the request for a preliminary injunction, allowing the city to open the site. John Doe 10 wants to appeal that decision, but the state court of appeals said he must either put his name on the case or get permission to proceed under a pseudonym.

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At a hearing Friday in Thurston County Superior Court, John Doe 10’s lawyer, Richard Stephens, argued his client feared for his safety and risked retaliation from protesters if his identity was made public.

Stephens cited a group called Olympia Solidarity Network, which last year targeted private security patrols that they said were displacing homeless people. The security company stopped the patrols after protesters surrounded its employees one night.

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Besides, Stephens argue, this case is about the city, not John Doe 10.

“The focus of the case, unlike a criminal case, is not on what he did. The focus (of) the case is simply did the city follow its procedures, or did it have an excuse for not following its procedures,” Stephens said.

The city’s lawyer, Jeffrey Myers, argued John Doe 10 has a “generalized fear” but faced no specific threats. He said the only plaintiff identified by name — Douglas Heay, who owns property next to the camp — has not been attacked for his part in the case.

In denying Joe Doe 10’s request, Dixon said the question was whether his fears were sufficiently compelling to outweigh the public’s right to know.

“It’s particularly important in a case of great public interest. The public is entitled to know who the litigants area,” he said.

Stephens said afterwards Dixon’s decision was disappointing but not surprising. He said his client will decide in the coming days whether to pursue the appeal or drop it.

Among those objecting to John Doe 10’s request was Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, which advocates for open government and First Amendment issues. Attorney Kathy George argued he was only trying to avoid activity that is protected by the First Amendment, such as picketing and protests at his business.

Follow more of our reporting on Homelessness in Thurston County

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Abby Spegman joined The Olympian in 2017. She covers the city of Olympia and a little bit of everything else. She previously worked at newspapers in Oregon, New Hampshire and Hawaii.
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