Initial Motions in Arlene's Flowers VS Washington AG
The ongoing controversy surrounding a Richland flower shop owner who refused service for a same-sex wedding moves to Benton County Court this afternoon.
The Washington State Attorney General's Office filed a alwsuit back in April alleging Arlene's Flowers and owner Barronelle Stutzman discriminated against a gay couple - Robert Ingersoll and Kurt Freed - on the basis of sexual orientation.
However, Stutzman's lawyers say this is not a case about discrimination, but about religious freedoms protected by the First Amendment.
Today initial motions and arguments were heard in front of the newly cloaked Justice Sal Mendoza.
In the courtroom today several players were present including counsel for the state, Todd Bowers and for the defense, attorney Justin Bristol.
There are two cases ongoing here; the State vs Arlene's and the gay couple vs Arlene's and owner Stutzman.
The defense argued several motions today, from consolidating all of these cases into one, to recusing Judge Mendoza because of the defense's claim that he could not be an impartial judge.
They say Mendoza was on the CBC Board, and plaintiff Kurt Freed is a teacher at CBC.
Mendoza said there was little if any contact between them, and also that if had he a choice this specific case would not be his first pick.
"Believe me ladies and gentlemen, if there was a way to ethically not to have to hear this case... This is not the case I would want to hear early on in my career, nonetheless ethically, I'm not going to to make up a reason to withdraw."
Mendoza denied the defense's motion to recuse himself, but he has agreed to consolidate the cases when it comes to pre-trial discovery.
He will decide whether to consolidate trials at a later date.
The judge has also asked for defense briefs on another motion to dismiss the third party complaint, which will be heard next Friday.
There are other lawsuits pending as well. The ACLU filed suit against Stutzman on behalf of the gay couple, while a religious freedom group, Alliance Defending Freedom, countersued the state on behalf of Stutzman.