Important Non-Emergency Telephone Numbers for King County

9-1-1 is for emergencies only. Call 9-1-1 only if you need an immediate response from police, fire or medics.

Utility Companies

Puget Sound Energy (24 hr): 1-888-225-5773
Seattle City Light: 206-684-7400 (24 hr Outage Hotline) or 206-684-3000

Police

Auburn (24 hr): 253-288-2121
Bellevue: 425-452-6917
Bothell (24 hr): 425-486-1254
Carnation: 206-296-3311
Clyde Hill: 425-454-7187
Covington (24 hr): 206-296-3311
Des Moines (24hr): 206-878-2121
Duvall: 425-788-1519
Enumclaw (24 hr): 360-825-3505
Federal Way (24hr): 253-835-2121
Issaquah: 425-837-3200
Kenmore (24 hr): 206-296-3311
Kent (24hr): 253-852-2121
Kirkland: 425-587-3400
Lake Forest Park: 206-364-8216
Maple Valley (24 hr): 206-296-3311
Medina: 425-233-6420
Mercer Island (24 hrs): 425-577-5656
Normandy Park: 206-248-7600
Pacific (24hr): 253-288-2121
Port of Seattle: 206-431-3490
Redmond: 425-556-2500
Renton (24hr): 425-235-2121
Sammamish (24 hr): 206-296-3311
Seattle (24 hr): 206-625-5011
Shoreline (24 hr): 206-296-3311
Skykomish (24 hr): 206-296-3311
Snoqualmie: 425-888-3333
Tukwila (24hr): 206-241-2121
University of WA (24 hr): 206-685-8973
King County (24 hr): 206-296-3311
King County Airport: 206-296-7392

Washington State Patrol: 425-401-7788 Vehicle Collision Report

Roads, Transportation and Traffic

Travel Information: 511
King County Roads: 1-800-527-6237

Health and Human Services

Public Health: 1-800-325-6165
Poison Center (24 hr): 1-800-222-1222
Crisis Clinic: 1-866-427-4747

Washington Information Network: 211

Other Services

King County Flood Warning Information: 1-800-945-9263
King County Flood Warning Center: 1-800-768-7932
American Red Cross: 206-323-2345 or 360-377-3761
Illegal Dumping: 1-866-431-7483
Abandoned Vehicle Hotline: 206-205-0969

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Baseball on Trial

Hot off the press, baseball is on trial. Not just baseball, but all sporting venues. Not just sporting venues, but anywhere you go to watch the action. Here’s the story…

Melky Cabrera, that colorful 29 year-old outfielder who faced a 50 game suspension related to a positive drug test, hit a line drive that landed the Atlanta Braves in the Georgia Court of Appeals. Bouncing off the head of an unwary six year old boy who suffered a cracked skull and traumatic brain injuries, the line drive raised an interesting and important legal issue. What responsibility does a sports team, or sports venue, have to protect those who attend the game?

The network buzz offers ample discussion of the case against the Atlanta Braves. What it does not offer is a question closer to home. What if the same injury occurred to a fan attending a home Mariner’s game? What would be the likely result?

Although the law of gastronomic jurisprudence is always potentially at work, the best insight is hindsight. Some years back, the Mariners faced a case in which a fan was hit by an errant pitch. Although the case resulted in an unreported decision, the law on which the case was decided offers a snapshot-in-time window as to how a future Court might rule.

The primary legal defense relied on a doctrine called “Assumption of the Risk”. Implied primary assumption of risk arises where a plaintiff impliedly consents (often in advance of any negligence by a defendant) to relieve the defendant of a duty regarding specific known and appreciated risks. Scott v. Pac. W. Mountain Resort, 119 Wn.2d 484, 497, 834 P.2d 6 (1992). The doctrine serves as a complete bar to recovery when an injury results from a risk inherent in the activity in which the plaintiff was engaged.

For many decades, courts have required professional baseball stadiums to screen some seats. Generally, those are the high-priced seats behind home plate. Spectators may choose to buy tickets for those seats, or at a somewhat lower cost, assume the risks associated with sitting in unscreened areas. When they do so, they also assume the risk of being hit by a ball. See Leek v. Tacoma Baseball Club, Inc., 38 Wn.2d 362, 229 P.2d 329 (1951). One who participates in a sport, even as a spectator, assumes the risks that are inherent in the sport. To the extent a plaintiff is injured as a result of an inherent risk, the plaintiff is barred from recovering for injuries sustained.

But that is not the whole picture. Once a defendant establishes that the plaintiff assumed the risks, the defendant must also show that the plaintiff had full subjective understanding of the specific risk, and voluntarily chose to encounter the risk. Brown v. Stevens Pass, Inc., 97 Wn.App. 519, 523, 984 P.2d 448 (1999) (citing Kirk v. Washington State Univ., 109 Wn.2d 448, 453, 746 P.2d 285 (1987); see also W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts, § 68 at 487 (5th ed.1984)).

The question is whether, at the time of the decision, the plaintiff actually and subjectively knew all facts that a reasonable person in the defendant’s shoes would know and disclose. Erie v. White, 92 Wn.App. 297, 303, 966 P.2d 342 (1998).

In this case, would a fan actually and subjectively know that a game involving hurled spherical missiles at high rates of speed (the faster the better), smashed by heavy sticks of wood such that the spheres fly great distances, know and understand that someone that was sitting in the path of flight might actually be hit?

Except in Washington and Colorado, where the adoption of laws that permit the inhaling of funny fumes are becoming trendy, the answer is intuitively obvious to the casual observer. We sit in the cheap seats because they are cheap. We sit in the cheap seats to catch fly balls, and foul balls, and whatever balls come our way. We even hope that balls will come our way. Why, then, should we cry “foul” when we miss the catch?

Gentle reader, support the Mariners. Support the Seahawks. Support your team of choice. But if you are not prepared to see the ball up close, stay home.

Copyright 2014 Gregory D. Lucas

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Helpful Websites / URLs Related to Foreclosure

Department of Financial Institutions:
http://www.dfi.wa.gov/consumers/homeownership/foreclosure_help.htm#.UwQQ_jiA3rc

Information and Documents to Gather Before Contacting a Counseling Agency:
http://www.dfi.wa.gov/consumers/education/foreclosure/before_you_call.pdf

HopeNow Guidance:
http://www.hopenow.com/

Locating HUD Approved Housing Counseling Agencies:
http://hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/hcs.cfm?webListAction=search&searchstate=WA

Housing Counseling and Service Provider Network:
http://www.wshfc.org/buyers/counseling.htm

Foreclosure Assistance Programs:
http://www.dfi.wa.gov/consumers/homeownership/foreclosure_assistance_programs.htm#.UwQSrziA3rc

Making Home Affordable Modification Program Website:
https://www.hmpadmin.com/portal/index.jsp

Fannie Mae:
http://www.fanniemae.com/portal/index.html

Freddie Mac:
http://www.freddiemac.com/

Refinancing Through Making Home Affordable (HARP):
http://makinghomeaffordable.gov/refinance_eligibility.html

Loan Modification Through Making Home Affordable (HAMP):
http://makinghomeaffordable.gov/modification_eligibility.html

Second Lien Modification Program (2MP):
http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/lien_modification.html

Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program (HAFA):
http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/hafa.html

Partial Claim Program for FHA Loans in Foreclosure:
http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/nsc/faqpc.cfm

Foreclosure Prevention Unit:
http://www.wsba.org/Legal-Community/Volunteer-Opportunities/Public-Service-Opportunities/HFLAP-Portal/Home-Foreclosure-Legal-Aid-Project/Home-Foreclosure-Legal-Aid-Project-Homeowner-Information

Property Tax Deferral Program:
http://dor.wa.gov/

Information for Renters Whose Landlord is Facing Foreclosure (PDF):
http://www.washingtonlawhelp.org/documents/4306116122EN.pdf?stateabbrev=/WA/

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Beware: Federal Quicksand at Work

Earlier this month, Cornerstone Research, a multistate economic and financial consulting firm, released a study on the characteristics of FDIC lawsuits against the key personnel of failed financial institutions.1 Among its key findings was that the FDIC had filed fourteen more lawsuits in 2013 against the directors and officers of failed financial institutions than in 2012. Average damages in 77 of the 84 lawsuits filed since 2010 were approximately $49 million. 17 of those settled for unspecified amounts. Not all of those targeted directors and officers.

The report graphically showed a dramatic rise in the number of such lawsuits filed since 2010. The good news was that the pace of failures of financial institutions was slowing, with 24 failures in 2013, the lowest number since 2008. In addition, the asset size of institutions failing in 2013 was generally lower than in earlier years. The bad news was that there have been at least 489 institutional failures since 2008. As an aside, the FDIC took control over 427 banks during the period from January 2008 to March of 2012. In the preceding 5 year period, the FDIC took over only 10.

There is no question that a large share of the responsibility is on the backs of bankers who took inordinate, unreasonable and unjustified risks prior to the economic collapse. But the fault does not stop there. The myriad failures of a federal regulatory system designed to breed uncertainty and inconsistency in everything from government bailouts, to restrictive policies in the Federal Reserve Act designed to inhibit the operation of the free enterprise system, to the patently unconstitutional Dodd-Frank Act must share the blame.

Giant federally supported banking institutions are positioned to loan. Smaller independent banks are subjected to higher funding costs and stricter regulations, insuring their inability to compete, courtesy of Dodd-Frank. If financial firms that are deemed “too big to fail”, firms whose failure might cause systemic havoc, are assured of governmental assistance when failure is possible, their incentive to exercise market discipline, and to prevent financial risk-taking, is virtually eliminated. If small institutions are faced with higher lending costs and increased oversight and regulation, they exist at the mercy of the regulators pulling their strings.

The real wonder is that only 489 institutions failed.

Dodd-Frank created two new governmental institutions that small banks, and the American public, must swallow. The Consumer Financial Products Bureau (“CFPB”) and the Financial Stability Oversight Council (“FSOC”) are creations of the current administration; two independent public czars appointed by the President without the consent of the Senate, who operate outside the normal checks and balances offered by the three branches of government.

Understand that CFPB is funded by the Federal Reserve System. But because it operates outside the normal checks and balances system, it operates beyond Congressional oversight. It has the power to assume responsibilities of the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, the FTC, and even the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It has the power to write and enforce rules for financial institutions, again, beyond Congressional oversight. It even has the unilateral authority to control individuals’ retirement savings, and to compel us to buy federal debt.

In every society, we trade freedom for security, and security for freedom. The trick is to find a balance that meets our need for both. One end leaves us with anarchy; the other with tyranny. Often attributed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower is the statement that, “Every step we take towards making the State our Caretaker of our lives, by that much we move toward making the State our Master.”

The pillars of a democratic republic are feeling shaky. As we trade Constitutional protections for benevolent despotism, you can almost feel the quicksand beneath your feet.

1 “Characteristics of FDIC Lawsuits against Directors and Officers of Failed Financial Institutions”, dated February 2014, Cornerstone Research. For a complete copy of the report, see: http://www.cornerstone.com/getattachment/bbf34483-d4b4-4084-8915-ee7dbdb1dbae/Characteristics-of-FDIC-Lawsuits-against-Directors.aspx.

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To Catch a Catphish

To almost all, we extend our greetings for a pleasant and romantic Valentine’s Day. But not for all. Valentine’s Day is not just the time for pink hearts, flowing ribbons, flouncy cards, and chocolate. It is also a time for the proverbial “catphish” to prey on the unsuspecting victim of love. For my fellow Southerners, I am not referring to the tasty fried denizen of the deep that goes well with hushpuppies. I am referring to the slimy scum suckers who prey on the innocent, pretending to be someone they are not in order to pluck the heartstrings as they plunder the purse strings.

You know who you are. Your anthem looks something like this:

“Song of the Catphish”
(With apologies to Robert Frost)

The scum is slimey, as I am,
But I have paramours to scam,
And many yearning loves to spam,
And many yearning loves to spam.

For those less familiar with the species, the catphish is not found in dark, deep ponds, but in chat rooms, social internet sites, and dating websites. You do not fish for catphish. They fish for you. Like a wriggling worm, they disguise themselves using every form of deception to win your affections and your trust, never letting on that a barbed hook lies within. They court you, and charm you, even relying on pity, patriotism and guilt to manipulate you into making decisions you will regret.

And when, at last, you nibble the bait, they set the hook.

Like their distant but more respectable catfish cousins, catphish are bottom feeders. They seek emotionally susceptible targets of opportunity, the elderly, the young, the emotionally fragile, those yearning for love.

They insist on remaining out of sight. All communications with them will be by e-mail, cell phones, text messages, or untraceable letters. Circumstances will always place them out of reach. They may be overseas, or in prison, or in the military. Meeting for coffee is out of the question. Part of their charm, in fact, is their unavailability.

They may be destitute, dying of cancer, or some other curable disease. Death will usually be avoidable if only they could afford a surgery. They may be healthier specimens, whose distant mother is dying. Her last request is to see her only son; but alas, the son cannot afford to travel to her side. They may be facing a sudden emergency, and need financial help, having no one else to whom they can turn for aid. They may be desperate to come to the side of the lovelorn to render solace, but without the means to do so.

The stories vary as widely as the creativity of the species of catphish at issue, but they all have a common thread: they play on an emotional string, coupled with a financial need they cannot satisfy. The one who comes to their aid will win their undying love. Enter the barbed hook.

Just as Paganini wrote variations on a theme, so the catphish will create a potentially infinite number of variations to bypass the radar of the wary. If you plead poverty, they will find someone to send a cashier’s check, or a postal money order to your account, provided that you are willing to transfer the funds to them. Of course, your transfer must be by wire. Their funds are fraudulent; yours are genuine. And as the catfish can deliver a stinging blow, so the catphish will deliver its financial poison.

Then, having stung its victim, the catphish descends into the muck from which its rose, only to seek its next victim.

So how do you beat the catphish? As my wife reminds me from time to time when I try to open a stubborn box, “You have to be smarter than the box.”

Gentle reader, you have to be smarter than the catphish. Don’t get sucked in. Don’t fall for that ever unseen love. And when you are tempted to send money to a stranger, ask your children if they mind you sending their inheritance to a faceless bottom dweller. The second opinion cannot hurt more than the impending theft.

If you think you are the victim of a scam, contact the Attorney General at 1-888-551-4636.

Copyright 2014 Gregory D. Lucas

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Poster Scammers Are At It Again

In what has become an annual scare tactic rife with opportunities for fraud, poster scammers contact businesses, intimidating them with threats of fines or worse for not posting or updating state and federal mandated employment posters. While it is true that most businesses must prominently display a number of employment posters, all of which can be obtained free of charge, the scare tactic works something like this:

A company sends intimidating letters, e-mails, or other communications warning you that you are subject to hefty fines from every government agency known to man if you dare to conduct business for one more day without having the required government posters, updated annually. They warn of the imminent $17,000 fine that will be assessed, with daily assessments for continued violations. Of course, you can spare yourself the agony of government imposed fines by sending them only $99.95. Each year, the threats are renewed, the fines increased, and the fear multiplied.

The latest variation on a theme comes from a California company calling itself the Labor Standards Compliance Office (LSCO). LSCO is not registered to do business in Washington. It uses a mail drop as its official address, but otherwise maintains no physical office in Washington. Posing as a government agency, LSCO sends official-looking correspondence that appears to impose a $295.00 fee that is “Now Due” for failure to comply with posting regulations. Boldly emblazoned in the upper right corner are the words:

FINAL NOTICE
Failure to comply with 2013 labor
law requirements may lead to
government fines and/or audits

The notice is as official looking, and as intimidating, as an impending IRS audit. While it is true that legitimate private vendors may sell such posters, communications that create the appearance of being official notices from a government agency seeking to impose a sense of urgency at the recipient’s risk of peril are nothing less than fraudulent.

On February 4, 2014, the Washington Attorney General’s Office filed a complaint against LSCO in the Spokane County Superior Court, seeking to impose an injunction and civil penalties against LSCO. But while this action may have the result of shutting down one operator, at least until they can form another company to carry on, they are by no means the only company engaged in such tactics.

In its February 5th announcement, the Attorney General announced that it learned of another company, called Labor Law Compliance Institute, LLC that was engaging in a similar scam. Labor Law Compliance Institute (“LLCI”) also operates out of a mail drop, this time in Largo, Florida, a haven for nationwide scams. LLCI tries to sell labor law posters for $143, and has managed to attain the slightly less than coveted “F” rating given by the Better Business Bureau.

As already noted, government required posters are available to be downloaded or requested free of charge. The following websites offer all the essential posters:

http://www.lni.wa.gov/IPUB/101-054-000.asp

http://www.esd.wa.gov/uitax/formsandpubs/ui-tax-forms.php

http://www.Posters.Lni.wa.gov

http://www.dol.gov/elaws/posters.htm

In addition, the recommended Human Rights Commission poster on prohibiting discrimination in employment can be obtained free of charge by calling 1-800-233-3247 (in Washington State) or 360-753-6770.

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House Offers Qualified Hope to Wounded Veterans

On January 13, 2014, the State House again took under consideration House Bill 1214. Briefly stated, HB 1214 exempts from property taxes veterans with one hundred percent service-connected disabilities and active duty members of the armed forces, National Guard, or Reserves who have incurred a catastrophic injury in the line of duty. The Bill has been around awhile. It was first introduced a year ago and sent to the Finance Committee, reintroduced in May of 2013, reintroduced in November of 2013, and reintroduced in January.

This is a bill that deserves action. The Bill’s heart is in the right place, although the devil is in the details. Our veterans deserve every consideration we can give them. But ask any veteran, and you will learn that they are a proud bunch. They have a right to be. By putting on a uniform, and pledging to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, …”, our service men and women willingly put their lives in peril for our sake; for freedom, for our children, for those too cautious to take such risk. We owe them something; not as an entitlement, but as the repayment of a debt. There is a difference.

Some debts are harder to repay than others. How do you meaningfully thank a warrior who died in battle? By taking the family camping on Memorial Day? How do you honor the woman whose leg was blown off while serving in Afghanistan? Our veterans carry the scars of battle in ways we can never fully understand. Yes, it was their duty. They know it. But it was also our duty. Protecting liberty is not the unique role of those in uniform. We all have that duty. Those in uniform volunteer to take our place, doing our duty for us. Therein lies a debt to repay – our debt.

HB 1214 has its flaws. For example, it exempts property taxes for claimants over the age of sixty-one, who are retired from gainful employment by reason of disability who have a one-hundred percent service-connected disability rating; or active duty service members who suffered a catastrophic loss within twenty-four months prior to the date of application for exemption. The rationale behind the restrictions appears to be the sort of legalism you might expect from one wanting to close loopholes.

HB 1214 also imposes limitations on the benefit based on disposable income. If someone whose body is wrecked in combat somehow is able to make good in civilian life, the benefit effectively goes away. In other words, if their lives are irretrievably altered by service-connected wounds, they must prove that they deserve what amounts to welfare based on their inability to pay property taxes. Again, the limitation is nonsense. It may make budgetary sense to a state bureaucrat. But it gives short shrift to the ones who put themselves in harm’s way for us.

Perhaps our legislators should ask themselves this question: Did our soldiers pledge to support and defend only those of us who can demonstrate an inability, based on income, to defend ourselves? If not, why would we only offer to repay our debt to them, only if they really need it? The notion is absurd. Balance the budget, yes, but not on the backs of our veterans.

This is not tough. Exempt all service men and women who suffered catastrophic losses in the line of duty from paying property taxes – no exemptions, no restrictions, no delays, no excuses. They deserve it. Do it now. It’s the right thing to do.

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An Editorial View from the Cheap Seats

The next few months are shaping up to be some of the most contentious we have seen in recent history. With the Bush tax cuts expiring in 2013, the estate tax unified credit reverting back to a one million dollar exempt amount, and sharp divisions arising in Congress and among the voting public, this promises to be a lively election season. At stake is not just the outcome of a Presidential election, but a national referendum on the ultimate fate of the Constitution.

The choice we make is not simply a choice of candidates. It is, rather, a question of balancing security against personal freedom. More of one always leads to less of another. As the recent Supreme Court decision on the fate of Obamacare demonstrated, government intervention into matters of personal choice for the sake of “reform” demands the continued erosion of individual freedom.

But unintended consequences have a way of making bad things worse. There are some trends to watch for as the health care crisis unfolds:

● Employers faced with economic hardship will be forced to choose between paying annual per employee penalties versus paying the skyrocketing costs of providing health care. Many will opt for the penalties.

● Everyone will face greater government regulation and intervention, leading to higher taxes, and less freedom.

● Older citizens will find that they have less access to needed care, and will become increasingly dependent on the government.

● A graying population of “Baby-Boomers” will rely on a proportionally smaller population of young workers to fund unsustainable entitlements. The fallout will be reduced benefits for the elderly, increased costs for the young, government growing out of control, and an unsustainable economic burden on virtually everyone.

When Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it…”, she demonstrated the incomparable foolishness of acting and speaking rashly. When we elect public officials, we vest in them a profound trust that they will act judiciously, prudently, and with the utmost of care. All indicators point to the fact that they failed us. We deserve better.

Your vote matters. Use it wisely.

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Too Much of a Good Thing?

If you engaged in the purchase, sale or refinance of real estate recently, you may find that the volume of junk mail you receive has ballooned out of control. Because mailing information quickly becomes outdated, transactions leading to the creation of public records are often “mined” by commercial mailing services to update databases. The data is then sold and resold repeatedly, allowing companies to plant the next day’s garbage in your mailbox.

But you are not without alternatives. The respective credit reporting agencies offer “opt-out” telephone numbers to enable you to minimize the amount of junk mail that you receive. By contacting the following telephone numbers, you may opt out of mailing lists that lead to junk mail.

Equifax 1-888-567-8688
Experian 1-402 458 5247
TransUnion 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (888-567-8688)

Remember that not all good things last forever. You must periodically repeat the process, or you may find that junk mail again finds its way to your door.

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Start your Financial Wellness Check-up

If you have not done so, it may be time to check your own credit report to insure that everything is as it should be.  The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (“FACT” Act) allows you a free annual credit report from each of the established credit reporting agencies, including Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

A centralized service was created by the credit reporting agencies to enable consumers to efficiently request their own free credit reports.  You may request your credit reports through the following website:  www.annualcreditreport.com

Of course, credit reports may alternatively be obtained telephonically by contacting the respective credit reporting agencies at the following telephone numbers: 

Equifax:          1-800-685-1111
Experian:        1-888-397-3742
TransUnion:   1-877-322-8228

As always, remember to exercise extreme caution when it comes to providing your personal information, including your Social Security Number, and never provide that information to anyone who contacts you requesting it.  When in doubt, seek legal counsel.

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