Most Influential: Attorney Thomas Ahearne

Lead plaintiffs' counsel in McCleary v the State of Washington, Thomas Ahearne is proved to be a for
Posted December 09, 2010

As the lead plaintiffs’ counsel in McCleary v. the State of  Washington, Thomas Ahearne, an attorney with Seattle-based Foster Pepper PLLC, proved to be a force of nature. Undertaking the biggest education-finance lawsuit in three decades, Ahearne and his team shined a glaring spotlight on the state’s failure to provide—in the words of King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick—“ample, stable and dependable funding” to the state’s 1 million public school-children. The significance of the case is “enormous,” says Ahearne. “[This ruling] eliminates the excuses state officials use to pretend they are not violating their oaths to comply with our state constitution,” he says. “To be blunt,” he adds, “[the] plaintiffs concluded that 30 years of lip service is enough: The state must put its money where its mouth is.”

In 1978, the Washington Supreme Court ordered that the state comply with the Washington Constitution, unequivocally mandating that “it is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” Every year since, says Ahearne, “The governors and the state legislatures have promised to comply ‘tomorrow,’ but ‘tomorrow’ never comes.”

Though Washington is the only state in the country with a constitution making education the paramount duty of the state, its per-pupil expenditure has plummeted to 45th in the nation, says Ahearne. The state is expected to fight the ruling, but at press time it had yet to file an appeal.

Published November 2010 

More articles from our Most Influential issue

Person of the Year: The Police Officer

Most Influential: CEO Ben Huh

Most Influential: Bill Gates Sr.

Most Influential: Partners on the Cascadia Center

Most Influential: Dave Ross and Tom Douglas

Most Influential: Group Health Cooperative

Most Influential: Hanson Hosein

Most Influential: Football player Jake Locker

Most Influential: F5 Networks CEO John McAdam

Most Influential: Activist Keli Carender

Most Influential: Founder Kim O'Donnel

Most Influential: Broker Laura Miller

Most Influential: Seattle Storm Lauren Jackson

Most Influential: Consultant Mike Donlin

Most Influential: Mike McGinn and Dow Constantine

Most Influential: M.D. and CEO Mitchell Gold

Most Influential: Ones to Watch

Most Influential: Our Selection Panel

Most Influential: CEO Paul Davis

Most Influential: Robb Hunt and Steve Tomkins

Most Influential: Sandra Jackson-Dumont

Most Influential: Speight Jenkins

Most Influential: King-5 News Susannah Frame

Most Influential: Co-founder Tad McGeer

Most Influential: The Seattle Times Staff

Most Influential: Real Change's Tim Harris

Most Influential: Senator Tracey Eide

Most Influential: Zoran Popovic and David Baker