First Hearing For Arlene's Flowers Case - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

First Hearing For Arlene's Flowers Case

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KENNEWICK, Wash- Friday, the state's lawsuit against the owner of Arlene's Flowers had its first hearing in front of a judge.

At the Benton County Justice Center, lawyers for the Attorney General's Office and the defendant brought forward their initial claims in a pre-trial hearing. It's setting up a judicial process that will determine whether the actions of one flower shop owner could be deemed as discrimination.

"This is obviously a very high profile case," said Alicia Berry, one of the Defense Attorneys. "Those people standing back there (media) and this courtroom full of observers lends itself to the evidence of that."

It all started at the beginning of March this year when a Richland florist, Barronelle Stutzman refused to serve Rob Ingersoll, a customer of 9 years for his wedding to partner Curt Freed. Since then, a private lawsuit has been filed from the gay couple against the flower shop along with one from the State Attorney General's office and a counter suit from the shop against the State Attorney's Office.

"At the end of the day when this case is resolved do we want any question in anybody's mind, any of these impartial jurors about whether there was a bias or impartiality on your part," said Stutzman.

The defense asked for the recusal of Judge Salvador Mendoza because they claim he has a personal relation and conflict of interest with one of the plaintiffs, Curt Freed. Mendoza sat on the Board of Trustees at Columbia Basin College and Freed is a Vice President for Instruction at the school.

"My wife apparently has bought flowers from Arlene's Flowers on a couple of occasions," said Mendoza. "Again, I don't think that this is at all relevant."

In addition, the defense claims that because some of the State Attorney General's claims come from a federal motion that parts of the case should not concern the state.

"Just because an element of a particular claim relies on a federal statute doesn't make that a federal question that would for example allow for removal," said one of the Attorney General representatives.

One motion all parties including Mendoza agreed on was that the three cases could possibly be consolidated.

"We don't have the ability to have different trials," explained Mendoza. "The facts are the same."

Pre-trial motions are scheduled to continue after the 4th of July holiday when Benton County Judge Mendoza will take some of the issues from today's hearing into consideration.