Monday, December 31, 2007
"The court majority — including Chief Justice Gerry Alexander, Justices Bobbe Bridge, Mary Fairhurst, Susan Owens and Barbara Madsen — gives another wink to the increasing practice of agencies keeping information quiet by hiring attorneys to run investigations, then claiming attorney-client privilege. Especially troubling, the majority gives agencies the nod to file lawsuits to intimidate members of the public merely making a request for information. The Legislature should enact a remedy."
Sunday, December 30, 2007
It quotes Michele Earl-Hubbard of Allied Law Group and adds:
"Earl-Hubbard is right -- as is [Justice Charles] Johnson in his strong dissenting opinion on the expansion of the attorney-client privilege exemption. There is a need to strike a balance on this issue of attorney-client privilege, of course. But the majority opinion is not balanced, in our view. It would seem to grant the exemption simply because an attorney was present during a meeting or had a hand in producing a requested document."
"In any number of touchy circumstances, you could concoct a flimsy-if-feasible scenario that a lawsuit might be in the offing. Employ an attorney, at taxpayer expense, to generate and keep any documents. Voila! Instant secrecy."
"If a public controversy erupts and you’re a politician or bureaucrat who wants to investigate the matter but hide the results? Hire a lawyer to do it. That way, the court ruled, it’s not a public investigation, but rather attorney work product exempt from disclosure."
"In this new case, the Supreme Court said it’s now OK for local or state jurisdictions to take a public records request immediately to Superior Court to ask if a particular record is subject to public disclosure. That sounds innocent, but it will have pernicious results. The court’s new ruling means the requester will always pay to fight the government, even when the citizen’s claim is legitimate. This government-initiated lawsuit, particularly in the hands of an agency bent on hiding even obvious public records, means a requester will have to spend thousands of dollars (or even tens of thousands) just to get the right to copy documents."
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Addressing the court's broadening of the attorney work-product exemption, the TNT writes: "The court essentially said that public agencies can keep records secret forever by outsourcing their investigations to lawyers."
On the court's decision to allow agencies to preemptively sue requestors (this is not a typo), the TNT writes, "The maneuver worked, and now the Supreme Court has sanctioned it, giving all public agencies the green light to use taxpayer dollars to file what smacks of strategic lawsuits against public participation."
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Here is the majority opinion, the dissent, and a concurrence.
The AP story is here.
The Spokesman-Review story is here.
The Seattle Times story is here.
Here is Postman's piece.
Here is the Seattle P-I article, which quotes Allied Law Group's Michele Earl-Hubbard.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
A searchable government spending database is a very doable project. The state of Florida partnered with Google to create one. Not to be outdone, Microsoft has indicated a willingness to partner with states to do the same. Hawaii, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, South Carolina, Missouri and Texas are currently considering a searchable database. The federal project was sponsored by senators at opposite ends of the political spectrum: Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). It passed unanimously in Congress. This is not a controversial issue. Not even close.
If a government official in Washington state says we don't need this or it's too hard to do, they have something to hide in that database.
Friday, December 21, 2007
"Gregoire supports having local governments tape-record executive, or closed-door, sessions so judges can review what is said in the event of legal disputes. She is considering whether to request the legislation."
This is good news. We hope the Governor joins the Attorney General and State Auditor in requesting a good bill to require recording of executive sessions.
When we thought the Governor was not doing a good job on open-government issues, we said so. When we think she is doing a good job, we say so.
On the Carr subject, the Olympian writes: "The governor's appointment is highly suspect given Carr's anti-openness record and this latest subpoena fiasco only adds to that suspicion."
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Note the last paragraph of the editorial discussing the fact that journalists account for just 6% of FOIA requests. Citizens and businesses make up the vast majority of requestors. Open-government laws are not just for the media.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
A few posts below we posted about President George W. Bush's attempt to withhold White House visitor logs. We're non-partisan here: both presidents are trying to withhold information from the public.
Visitor logs revealed scandals in the past administration and, who knows, maybe in the current one.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
"You would think that elected officials would want to protect themselves with an official record of some kind. What if they get bad legal advice, for example. Today it’s their word versus that of their attorney. Again, an audiotape reviewed in private by a judge would settle the dispute.
Public officials who object to the good government legislation say audiotapes would inhibit their conversations. That’s ridiculous. Elected officials should conduct themselves the same way in private as they do in public. They have nothing to fear beyond being held accountable for their actions and words in closed-door sessions. The public’s right to know should prevail."
Sunday, December 16, 2007
"What’s going on backstage at the Pierce County Council?
Twice in recent weeks the council has taken a recess after a close vote – the first on a sewer rate increase, the second on an ethics code overhaul. In each case the council emerged from recess, voted again and arrived at a different outcome."
Hmm. After a close vote, they recess to their offices and come back with a different vote. And they say there's no "deliberations or discussions" about the matter during the recess.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Friday, December 14, 2007
This is why open government matters.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The [Seattle] Times deserves praise for vigorously resisting the subpoenas.
Carr deserves no praise, not even for withdrawing the subpoenas, because
they never should've been issued in the first place. Other members of the
Sunshine Committee should learn two valuable lessons, one about the public's
right to know, and another about the chairman of their own committee.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Unlike many others in the media, we were willing to give Seattle City Attorney
Tom Carr the benefit of the doubt. We said in August that "unless developments
prove otherwise, we have no quarrel" with him as chairman of the state's new
Now there has been a major development -- and we have
to concede that the media worry-warts across the state were right: Carr is the
wrong man to be chairing a committee pledged to help ensure open government.
Gov. Chris Gregoire should reverse her earlier appointment and remove him from
this important fact-finding panel because of his flagrant pro-government,
anti-public's-right-to-know actions to date.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Friday, December 7, 2007
Tom Carr is proving his detractors right.
No matter how much backpedaling he does, Carr has proved himself no ally to
the press and its quest to keep government open and accountable. His ability to
be the publicly minded leader that the Sunshine Committee needs is in more
doubt than ever.
Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr displayed his personal conflict of interest
concerning open government when he ignored state law to subpoena three Seattle
Times reporters in November as a tactic to defend the city against a lawsuit.
It seems the Seattle attorney is to maintain open government by resolving
records exemptions while he works to stifle open government by ignoring obvious
laws - such as the "reporter shield law," which specifically prohibits his
attempts at subpoenas - and attacking governmental watchdogs.
Chris Gregoire gave Carr a chance to redeem himself as a proponent of open,
transparent government when she appointed him as chair. But his decision to
subpoena the reporters betrays his intentions to side with the government over
people. After all, it is his day job. The only way to return confidence to the
Sunshine Committee is to remove the appearance of a conflict of interest. To do
that, Carr must go.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
(Note to sensitive readers: some of the ads in The Stranger which are visible from this story are ... not for everyone.)
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Tom Carr says in this Associated Press story that he didn't know the subpoenas were issued. The story quotes Allied Law Group's Michele Earl-Hubbard.
A darned good idea.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
As usual, it seems to come down to the fact that there is virtually no downside ($100 penalty of personal money) to violating the Open Public Meetings Act. And that requires someone to spend their own money to bring a suit.
Monday, December 3, 2007
- The Seattle Times editorial: "The Seattle city attorney's decision to subpoena three Seattle Times reporters threatens to set a precedent disastrous to the public, which counts on the media to scrutinize government officials."
- The Skagit Valley Herald editorial: "We had considerable doubt that Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr was the right person to lead an effort to reduce the number of exemptions to the state’s open records laws. His latest misadventure reaffirms our view that Gov. Chris Gregoire made a big mistake by appointing Carr to chair the state’s Sunshine Committee. ... Carr has not a shred of credibility remaining as a steward of the public’s right to know. If he won’t step down voluntarily, the governor should fire him and appoint a chairman who has a demonstrated belief in open government."
- Crosscut column: "Rossi has promised to make Gregoire's management an issue in the campaign. In his kick-off, he labeled her as 'the governor for the government, not the governor for the people,' a line that many political analysts, even those sympathetic to Gregoire, felt had resonance. Gregoire's appointment of Carr is now Exhibit A for her questionable judgment, one that will win a sympathetic hearing not just from citizen activists and civil libertarians but from major media in Washington that are alarmed at Carr's over-reach."
- State Sunshine and Open Records: "When Tom Carr was appointed head of the Washington state government’s 'Sunshine Committee' back in August, the freedom-of-information community was more than a little concerned. Their concerns were well-founded."