The state Attorney General Bob Ferguson likes to say he heads the state’s largest law firm: There are 550 lawyers in 27 divisions. They represent the state on different cases like fraud, labor issues and consumer protection. But he felt something was missing.
“None of our 550 attorneys were doing affirmative civil rights work on behalf of the people of the state of Washington. And that didn’t seem right to me,” Ferguson said.
So this week, he launched a new unit to investigate civil rights cases and named it after Wing Luke, the first person of color in Washington elected to public office.
“A less well-known part of his career is that he was a lawyer in the office of the Washington state attorney general, and he did civil rights work,” Ferguson said. “So when we think of naming something after somebody, I think you do it because you want to honor that person, but beyond that, you want to set a vision or the expectations for the people who work there.”
Wing Luke served as an assistant attorney general from 1957 to 1962. He brought his passion for civil rights to the Seattle City Council when he championed the Open Housing Ordinance that prohibited unfair practices in housing. Wing Luke died in 1965 in a plane crash.
Currently, the Washington State Human Rights Commission handles civil rights complaints. Ferguson said the commission receives thousands of complaints a year. He said it shows the need for more enforcement. The new unit would supplement the commission’s work.
“They badly need more resources, given the great need, the number of complaints they receive around civil rights.”
One recent example of that was in 2013. The attorney general’s office filed suit against Arlene’s flowers, the florist in Richland for refusing to sell wedding flowers for same sex couples.