W.T. Watterson


All states guarantee constitutional due process and fairness for both judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings. They differ, however, on the legal standard of fairness to apply to quasi-judicial proceedings. Many states rely on due process guarantees, that is, a proceeding which is fair in actual substance and procedure. Washington, however, has adopted more of the judicial standard for quasi-judicial actions, requiring "a hearing not only fair in substance, but fair in appearance as well." This "appearance of fairness doctrine" was originally developed within the context of local land use decisions. Later, it was applied to a broader spectrum of administrative proceedings. Although the appearance of fairness doctrine is indisputably still good law, the question today is whether courts will apply it. And, if courts will not apply the doctrine, then the question is what procedural standard applies to quasi-judicial decision makers and how that standard fits within the framework of land use statutes enacted in recent decades. To address this question, this Comment first traces the evolution of the doctrine from its initial announcement by the court to the most recent decisions. Part III then examines the enforcement and ambiguity problems posed by the doctrine today. Part IV evaluates whether the doctrine has become increasingly irrelevant because of the ever-expanding procedural protections in statutes governing land use decision making. The conclusion from this analysis is that this emergent statutory scheme has greatly increased public participation in, and scrutiny of, land use project proposals, has reduced the role of the legislative bodies to which the original doctrine was addressed, and has given much more decision-making authority to professional staff and adjudicators. A further consequence of this statutory supplantation has been a judicial modification of the doctrine, transforming the doctrine's standard into an approximation of constitutional due process. As a result, today's courts are unlikely to invoke the appearance of fairness doctrine to protect the public interest even though violations of the doctrine still can and do occur, and the doctrine has been relegated to an inactive status as a relic of the needs of an earlier generation.