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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mechling: Great Court Ruling on Electronic Records

The Court of Appeals decided Mechling v. City of Monroe. It's a really good decision. See for yourself why.

Arizona Supreme Court: Metadata Is a Public Record

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled today that metadata in a public-agency email is subject to disclosure. Specifically, the court held "that if a public entity maintains a public record in an electronic format, then the electronic version, including any embedded metadata, is subject to disclosure under our public records law." This is the first state supreme court opinion in the country to rule that metadata is available for public review.

This decision overrules a horrible decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals that held the opposite. Local governments in Washington and elsewhere were pointing to the horrible decision as a reason to deny access to electronic records. Not any more.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Public Records Show ... How Badly Seattle Will Be Destroyed in an Earthquake

KOMO TV reports that the state Department of Transportation reluctantly released a video simulation the agency made showing the potential destruction of a 7.0 quake 20 miles from Seattle. Reluctantly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yakima Herald-Republic on Recent Open Gov't Cases

This Yakima Herald-Republic editorial describes some of the troubling recent court rulings on the Public Records Act.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Split Decision in Open Meetings Case Against Arlington School District

This story from The (Everett) Herald describes an initial ruling in an Open Public Meetings Act case against the Arlington School District brought by the Center for Justice.

(For background on the case, click here.)

The ruling: the District violated the OPMA 21 times but not intentionally, and the suit was not frivolous. The District's "study sessions" which occurred 100% of the time (41 out of 41 times) before an open meeting, were not a "regular" meeting. Instead, the judge ruled they were all "special meetings" and special meeting notice was provided. The question of whether a "dinner" meeting and three "retreats" were illegal meetings remains for trial.

This case is not over.

NOTE: Greg Overstreet of the Allied Law Group represented the Center for Justice.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

UPDATED 2: Accountant Wins $500,000 Settlement from Board of Accountancy Where Public Records Played Key Role

Allied Law Group is proud to report that a client of the firm, Ed Clark, CPA, received a $500,000 settlement in a series of cases alleging retaliation by the Board of Accountancy. Public records played a key role in the outcome.

Here is The Olympian's story on the case.

The Seattle Times piece is here.

It is an amazing story. It shows that public records can save the day. And why agencies doing bad things hate the Public Records Act.

UPDATE 1: Looks like the Governor's Office is looking at a "consultant" to look at the Board of Accountancy. See the reaction to that.

UPDATE 2: The Board of Accountancy will investigate itself in the wake of paying out $500,000 to settle retaliation claims. The State Auditor says he will speak with the Governor and Attorney General about it.

Spokesman Review Editorial on Putting the Courts Under the Public Records Act

The Spokesman-Review writes this editorial describing why the courts should be required to comply with the Public Records Act after the Koenig II decision.

A Few Open Gov't Bright Spots

This column by the Seattle Times' Kate Riley describes some of the recent good news for open government.

TNT Editorial on Public Records Act Applying to Courts

The (Tacoma) News Tribune writes this characteristically pointed and crystal clear editorial on why the Public Records Act should apply to the courts.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Background on Open Meetings Case Against Arlington School District

This (Everett) Herald piece describes the background of the Center for Justice's case under the Open Public Meetings Act against the Arlington School District.

Seattle Times' Bruce Ramsey: Withhold Initiative Signatures

Seattle Times columnist Bruce Ramsey says initiative signatures should be withheld. He advocates an amendment to the Public Records Act to allow this.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Pizza Privacy" Guardian Tells His Side of the Story

Jefferson County Commissioner David Sullivan, who claimed what amounted to the "pizza privacy" exemption from disclosure of his County phone records and cost the County over $40,000 by doing so, writes this piece explaining why he was protecting people from harassment.

This is the same argument Tim Eyman is using.

County Judge Blocks Release of Eyman Petitions

The state court hearing a case about the disclosure of Eyman initiative petitions (other than the R-71 ones) has blocked release until the federal courts--and that would the U.S. Supreme Court--rule in the R-71 case.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Release of R-71 Petitions Until After Election

This isn't a decision on the merits, but is a temporary measure that goes past the election date.

Eymnan: Public Records Act Unconstitutional to the Extent It Could Lead to Harassment

The Seattle P-I's Strange Bedfellows blog has this piece, which states:

"In an amended complaint filed Monday, initiative proponent Tim Eyman argues that the state's Public Records Act is 'unconstitutional to the extent that it requires public disclosure when there is a reasonable probability of threats, harassment, and reprisals.'"

Eyman is wrong.

Threats, harassment, and reprisals are already against the law. Enforce those laws. This would curb the specific problem in a given situation without giving government a blanket excuse to keep virtually all information secret. Government could find a way to say that release of virtually any information would lead to someone being "harassed." For example, maybe a politician claims release of a damaging email will cause "harassment" because now he or she has a tough re-election campaign.

The starting point for looking at the public's right to know how their government is functioning can never be "There could be some crazy guy out there out of the millions of people in the state." That's the same as saying "Never release anything."

Monday, October 19, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks Release of R-71 Petitions

This is just a one-justice, temporary order preventing disclosure of the R-71 petitions.

It is relatively common when failure to provide a temporary block would make the case moot (because the records were released and there is nothing left to fight about in the case).

Olympian Editorial on Ninth Circuit R-71 Ruling

The Olympian editorializes on why the Ninth Circuit got it right by ordering the disclosure of the R-71 petitions.

Notes from Executive Sessions

This article from The (Everett) Herald looks at the issue of city council members keeping notes of executive sessions. The article lays out the issue very well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Court Says Courts Not Subject to Public Records Act

The state Supreme Court decided the Koenig II case today. In essence, the court held that courts are not an "agency" subject to the Public Records Act.

Here is the (Tacoma) News Tribune story on the case.

Here is Brad Shannon's blog post from The Olympian.

The Seattle P-I's story is here.

! Federal Appeals Court Orders Disclosure of R-71 Petitions !

They will be released.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wenatchee World Editorial on Why That Newspaper Sues to Get Public Records

Why do newspapers--which are strapped for cash more than most businesses right now--spend money on lawyers and sue to obtain public records?

Here's why.

Deleted Email Case--A Blow to Open Government

The Court of Appeals ruled for Pierce County in the deleted email case brought by BIAW.

NOTE: Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet represented the requestor in this case.

Suit Filed to Get Signers on All Eyman Initiatives, Not Just R-71

The (Everett) Herald reports that a request has been made for the signatures on all Eyman initiatives, not just R-71.

Eyman is opposing disclosure. A court hearing is scheduled for this week.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sunshine Committee Recommends Sunset Review of New Disclosure Exemptions

The Sunshine Committee is for sunsetting.

Jefferson County Must Pay $41,515 in Public Records Case

The Port Townsend Leader has this story about Jefferson County's "pizza privacy" defense in a Public Records Act case and how it cost them $41,515.

NOTE: Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet and David Norman represented the records requestor in this case.

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin Editorial on Technology and Open Meetings

This editorial from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin discusses email and Facebook and how they can make quick decisionmaking for local elected officials a little too easy.

The U-B is exactly right. Efficiency is not the goal here.

The Open Public Meetings Act is designed to make decision making open to the public, even if this is less efficient than deciding business in a few clicks of the mouse. This is counterintuitive in our go-go fast-fast world. But it's the law. And there's a good reason for it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Judge Blocks Release of Record ... But No One Cited a Legal Exemption from Disclosure

The Bellingham Herald reports on the outcome of their case to obtain a City of Bellingham report on the performance of Matia Contractors on a public works project.

The Public Records Act requires a party resisting disclosure to cite a statute allowing the record to be withheld, and also requires the party to persuade a court that the exemption from disclosure applies. No one, not Matia nor the City, has cited an exemption from disclosure, let alone described how it applies. In fact, Matia agreed that an exemption must be cited and that it had not done so. The judge still ruled for Matia.

NOTE: Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet represented The Bellingham Herald in the case.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

State Supreme Court to Hear Sealed Court Records Case

The state Supreme Court will hear the Yakima Herald-Republic's case to obtain court records showing how much Yakima County spent on defense attorneys in a murder case.

NOTE: Allied Law Group represents the Yakima Herald-Republic in the case.

Ruling Gives Seattle Police Oversight Board Access to Files

Now Seattle's police oversight board can see unredacted files so they can do their job.

Here is the Seattle Times story on it, and the Seattle P-I's story.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Quicker and Cheaper Way to Enforce Open Gov't Laws?

This piece by Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center and this story from The Olympian describe the work of a task force set up by the Attorney General and State Auditor to study the creation of an administrative body that, like small claims court, decides Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act cases quickly and cheaply--without having to go to court.

However, and this is extremely important, citizens could still go to court for enforcement. The administrative body would be an option.

Here is an editorial on the topic from the Spokesman-Review.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Clark College Sued Under Open Public Meetings Act

Even though the focus is usually on local government bodies, the Open Public Meetings Act applies to state boards and commissions as well.

In this case, the defendant is the Clark College, a state community college. The allegations center on the student association at the college deciding student-election campaign violations and taking a personnel decision in a closed meeting.

City of Seattle Considers Social Networking Sites to Have Potential Open Meetings Problems

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission has a new draft ethics policy out for city council members. The policy considers Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube to create the potential for Open Public Meetings Act violations.

Good. We hope other local governments are paying attention.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Obama Administration Opposes Federal Reporter Shield Bill


A reporter shield law allows reporters to offer complete anonymity to sources who might have information that makes the government mad; shielding whistle blowers leads to more accountability because news stories that otherwise would not happen can be published.

The Obama administration's opposition to this illustrates our point that, in general, those in power oppose accountability efforts while those out of power tend to support them (until they are in power).