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Originally published Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 5:09 PM

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Judge orders GOP, Libertarians to repay state $70K

The Washington state Republican and Libertarian parties have been ordered by a federal judge to repay more than $70,000 in fees they were awarded years ago during the litigation over the state's two-party primary.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Washington state Republican and Libertarian parties have been ordered by a federal judge to repay more than $70,000 in fees they were awarded years ago during the litigation over the state's two-party primary.

The Libertarians, the GOP and the Democrats had joined to sue the state over the "top-two" primary system implemented with the passage of Initiative 872. The parties argued the system was unconstitutional.

Initially, the parties prevailed in trial and at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the state was ordered to pay their lawyers' costs: $55,097 to the GOP, $37,673 to the Democrats and $16,301 to the Libertarians.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the lower courts and determined the primary system was constitutional.

It remanded the case back to U.S. District Judge John Coughenour. In August, the state asked the judge to recover the fees it had paid out, and Coughenour agreed.

Although the judge granted the motion, he did not set a deadline. Coughenour noted in a ruling Tuesday that the Democrats had paid back their share but the GOP and Libertarians had not. At the state's request, Coughenour issued a formal judgment against those two parties, which means interest will begin to accrue on the owed amounts until they are paid off.

"The state is merely asking for funds back — funds that it already paid to the Republican Party, and to which the party is no longer entitled," the judge ruled.

Telephone requests for comment left Wednesday for GOP Party Chairman Luke Esser and attorneys who represented the Libertarian Party were not returned.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

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