Washington Supreme Court baffles lawyers with split opinion

SEATTLE (AP) — An evenly split ruling from the Washington Supreme Court has lawyers scratching their heads.

The court on Thursday issued a 4-4 ruling in the case of a Shoreline man who had been convicted of obstructing police. Justice Barbara Madsen did not participate in the case.

Normally in such a split ruling, the lower court’s decision would stand. But Justice Steven González’s opinion was designated the lead opinion, and it ordered the conviction vacated and sent the case back to the trial court.

Justice Debra Stephens’ opinion, which would have upheld the conviction, was designated the dissent.

Several lawyers and law professors said they didn’t know how a 4-4 split could result in a conviction being overturned. The court didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking clarification.

Even defense attorney David Iannotti, who nominally won the case, said he didn’t understand. He added: “Everyone I’ve talked to is befuddled.”