The family of a Pasco man killed in 2005 by a retired Tacoma cop didn't mince words Thursday when they learned the governor signed a bill into law that will prevent them from garnishing the officer's pension.
"After nearly seven years of going through all of our state's court systems and prevailing on every single level, I still lose in the end, making me really question our judicial system and who it protects and benefits," Harvey "Al" Anthis' widow, Bonnie, said in an email to the Herald.
Kevin Santillie, Anthis' son-in-law, said he was "very disappointed" when he got word just hours before Gov. Chris Gregoire signed House Bill 1552 into law. The law prevents Bonnie Anthis from collecting part of Walter Copland's pension.
"There are no words to describe how disgusted I am," he said. "It's just wrong. I haven't met anybody yet that thinks this is a good idea."
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The bill was one of more than 100 that Gregoire signed into law Thursday. Instead of vetoing a portion of the bill, Gregoire sent a letter to the Select Committee on Pension Policy, asking it to review if exemptions to the pension garnishment law should be included to allow victims of serious crimes to collect on civil judgment awards.
That request didn't satisfy Santillie, who said Gregoire didn't do her "due diligence" and is "once again basically dodging the bullet by not doing anything."
"I don't think this was in the best interest of serving the citizens of Washington," he said.
Santillie said this fight wasn't about his family or the money, it was about a law that protects a convicted killer.
"How come all the rights have been shifted to protected a convicted killer and not the victim's family?" he asked.
Al Anthis was shot and killed by Copland, a retired captain who is serving a 121/2-year prison sentence after being convicted of first-degree manslaughter.
Anthis' family had urged the governor to veto the amendment that was added to the bill just days after the state Supreme Court ruled Bonnie Anthis was entitled to garnish Copland's pension to collect almost $1 million owed on a civil wrongful death lawsuit.
Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, previously told the Herald that the intent of the garnishment law always was to protect pensions, even after they're deposited into someone's bank account. The amendment simply was added to clarify the law that the state's highest court said was not clear.
The Anthis family, however, criticized the legislative process and said there should have been a chance for people to speak out against the amendment.
"I am sick to my stomach with the news that the governor, who although she heard our family's plea, she felt it was appropriate to pass the bill as it was written, rather than using her power as the governor to do the right thing -- and veto the bill," Shawn Crary said.
Crary, Bonnie Anthis' son, said what disturbed him most was how quickly the Legislature took action in response to the state Supreme Court's ruling.
"It was done in a matter of days, not weeks, months or years," he said. "State representatives cast their yea vote without ever hearing the name 'Bonnie Anthis.' Only when the clock was ticking and pressure was on the governor to sign the bill was our story heard."
When Gregoire signed the bill, she was surrounded by 10 supporters, including Goodman, the prime sponsor of the bill. She turned to Goodman after signing the bill into law and said, "I did write the letter, and I did ask them to review it."
In the letter to the pension policy committee, Gregoire said state law does allow for garnishment of pensions in divorce decrees, child support enforcement orders and federal court orders, and suggested it might be appropriate to allow pensions to be garnished when a beneficiary causes serious injury or death to another person.
"I have spoken with the proponents of SHB 1552, and they share my concerns that the issue of garnishment to collect on judgments where the beneficiary has caused the death of another person or other serious circumstance must be addressed," Gregoire wrote.
Goodman later told the Herald that he talked to Gregoire "at great length" Tuesday about the issue. They agreed it's an issue the pension committee should review -- not only if there should be an exemption to the garnishment protection, but also what circumstances should be exempt and what amount of garnishment is allowed, he said.
"It's a type of policy decision that needs to be deliberate and transparent, and the legislative committee is the right forum for that," he said. "I'm going to do whatever I can for this family and families like this who are denied justice."