Readers should know that Richard Elfers’ column about the Arlene’s Flowers case contains significant factual errors.
First, Mr. Elfers claims that my office sent a letter to Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, “threatening not only the loss of her business, but also all the assets she possessed, if Stutzman did not agree to arrange wedding flowers for (Robert) Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed.”
Not true. The letter I sent to Mrs. Stutzman made no such threat.
My letter did offer Stutzman the opportunity to avoid legal action and any costs associated with it by simply agreeing to “not discriminate against consumers based on their sexual orientation in the future.” That agreement, the letter continued, would not be “an admission by you that you violated the law and it does not include monetary payments or attorneys’ fees.”
My letter to Mrs. Stutzman is a public record and anyone who requests it from my office is welcome to it (or by going online to www.scribd.com/document/385032379/Letter-from-AG-Bob-Ferguson-to-Baronelle-Stutzman).
Second, Mr. Elfers’ writes that we are seeking “up to $1 million in legal fees and penalties.” Not true, although, being fair to Mr. Elfers, he’s only wrong by $998,999, or 99.9 percent.
Mr. Elfers made no effort to check his facts. My office never heard from him, and many public documents are available that would have prevented the error.
After we won the case in Benton-Franklin Superior Court, my office only asked for a $2,000 penalty and a dollar in attorney’s costs and fees. Judge Ekstrom awarded the state a $1,000 penalty under the Consumer Protection Act — and the $1 in costs and fees the state requested.
As a person of faith, it is important to me that the state be firm in enforcing our anti-discrimination laws, but to do so respectfully. On June 10, the Seattle Times editorial Board wrote: “Ferguson has struck a tone that is remarkably evenhanded in his case against Arlene’s Flowers. In court filings, he called Stutzman’s religious views ‘sincerely held’ and weighed them carefully, even while concluding her beliefs did not allow her to deny services to others when running a business in the public marketplace.”
I will let readers decide whether Mr. Elfers’ errors are the result of a willful effort to deceive, or plain sloppiness.
Washington State Attorney General