The family of a Pasco man shot and killed by a retired Tacoma police captain want the governor to veto a bill that would prevent them from collecting any of the convicted murderer's pension.
Harvey "Al" Anthis' family are speaking out against an amendment added to a House bill just days after the state Supreme Court ruled in the family's favor.
Just last month, the court said the widow of the retired Columbia Basin College instructor can garnish the officer's pension to help pay a almost$1 million wrongful death judgment.
"The convicted killer should be held accountable for his actions that transpired," Kevin Santillie, Anthis' son-in-law, told the Herald. "He gets the same treatment as those honorable officers who retire with dignity, but he already stepped over the line."
Family members argue that if the Legislature wants to protect pensions, there should be some way to allow crime victims to access a convicted felon's pension.
"The widow, obviously, all at once lost the support of her husband and so far the courts have given her an avenue to collect," said the family's attorney John Schultz of Kennewick. "But now it appears that the Legislature may take that away if the governor approves this legislative action."
Anthis, 64, was killed in September 2005, when Walter W. Copland held a .22-caliber gun to Anthis' temple and pulled the trigger after an evening of excessive drinking at neighbor's home in Kennewick.
Copland, a decorated police officer who spent almost 28 years on the Tacoma police force, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 121/2 years in prison. Now 70, Copland is at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen and could be released in May 2017.
After the trial, Bonnie Anthis filed and won her wrongful death lawsuit.
Copland appealed the Benton County Superior Court judge's decision that his police pension could be garnished once it was deposited into his account. He also filed bankruptcy in Tacoma while the appeal was pending, Schultz said.
The bankruptcy court ruled that the debt "arises from a willful and malicious injury" and did not have bankruptcy protection. Copland appealed to the 9th Circuit's bankruptcy appellate panel and lost.
Then the state Supreme Court heard the issue and released its opinion Feb. 16. In a 5-4 decision, the high court found that state law does not exempt Copland's pension from garnishment after it has been paid to him.
The dissenting justices sided with Copland's argument that the Law Enforcement Officers' and Firefighters Retirement System Act prevented garnishing a retirees' funds.
"This has been a long arduous and hard fought process with Walter Copland, all of which in every court at every level at every time has ruled against him," Schultz told the Herald. "Now ... the Legislature is poised to overturn it."
House Bill 1552, which rewrites the garnishment statute, was sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland. The bill passed the House unanimously Feb. 10, and was being discussed in the Senate judiciary committee when the Supreme Court ruling came in.
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, chairman of the judiciary committee, proposed the amendment to clarify the intent of the law, said Sydney Forrester, policy counsel for the Washington State Senate Democratic Caucus.
Forrester said no one opposed it and she was not aware of any group pushing the issue.
Goodman explained to the Herald that he had been working 21/2 years to rewrite the garnishment law, including changes to help businesses recover debts more quickly from consumers and streamlining the process for court.
"Then the Anthis decision came just as my bill was heading to the Senate. We all noticed it and said we need to fix that," Goodman said. "The Supreme Court didn't rule incorrectly, it just said the Legislature wasn't clear. So we went into the statute and made it clear.
"The consensus was always an intention to protect pensions from garnishment."
Goodman said the bill did have public hearings -- albeit before it was amended -- and all the legal analysis was done. The garnishment protection also applies to all public and private pensions, including IRAs and 401(k)s.
He conceded that the Supreme Court's ruling was an "unfortunate second victimization" of the family.
"My only very deep regret is that the widow in this case will be denied the judgment," Goodman said.
House Bill 1552 passed the Senate on March 1 and the House on March 8 and is now sitting on the governor's desk.
"It's all in the governor's hands. It was a real shock to me, when I learned what they had done. They really tried to do an end-run around our case," Schultz said.
"This legislation will make Washington state the only state in the union that insulates retirement funds after they are in the hands of the retiree," Schultz wrote in a letter to the governor.
The Anthis family said they have been trying to find out how the amendment got passed so quickly and why they were never notified.
Santillie, Anthis' son-in-law who lives in Kennewick, said justice was served for the family when Copland was sentenced, but "what's disturbing to us is even though we've gone through all the proper channels for the judicial system and all the way to the Washington Supreme Court, they're still trying to ... slip it under the governor's door hoping nobody would notice."
Shawn Crary, Bonnie Anthis' son, said his mother is retired, still lives in Pasco and struggles financially, but she also never anticipated she ever would get any money out of Copland. The family thought the Supreme Court ruling would finally bring an end to years of legal battles.
"From the death of her husband leading up to seven years later and we're still dealing with issues ... it would be rough on anybody," said Crary, who lives in California. "We just want it to go away. We just want this done."
But now Crary, Santillie and other friends and family have been contacting legislators and emailing the governor to draw attention to this policy issue.
"It's an important piece of policy that needs to be brought to light," Crary said. "This is not about police officers or retirees of the state of Washington. This is about something that was slipped in and not really looked at for the repercussion of it."
After the Anthis family began urging the governor to veto the bill or the amendment, one of Copland's attorneys wrote to members of the Washington State Retired Deputy Sheriffs & Police Officers Association urging them to encourage Gregoire to sign the bill.
It's not clear how long the letter was posted on the association's website, but at some point an update was added from the association saying, "We just found out that this case involves a police officer convicted of manslaughter for killing a man. The surviving spouse sued to garnish the officers (sic) LEOFF retirement. Do what you feel is right."
On Wednesday, Crary emailed the president of the association to counter some of what Copland's attorney wrote. The next day, the association's website was blocked from public view and now requires members to sign in to get access to the site.
The Herald did not receive a call back from Seattle attorneys Diana Marie Dearmin and Paul Fogarty, who filed a motion on Copland's behalf asking the Supreme Court to reconsider and reverse its decision in light of House Bill 1552.
Friday, Gregoire's staff said her policy adviser is well aware of the issue and it is under review. "That's the best that we can hope for," Crary said. "That is our goal, that she can at least take a look at it and weigh if it should be signed into law."
The last day for Gregoire to veto the bill or just a section of it is March 31.
Even if protecting pensions from garnishment was always the intent of the legislation, the Anthis family said they hope the bill is vetoed and the opposition is given a chance to address legislators before it's passed.