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PLN Sues to Uncover Telemarketing Closure

The accompanying story on the closure of the Washington Marketing Group (WMG) operation at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, Washington, occured in May, 1999. Shortly after it occurred PLN editor Paul Wright filed a Public Disclosure Act (PDA) request with the Department of Correction's Correctional Industries (CI) seeking disclosure of all documents relating to WMG's closure. After many months of stalling, the DOC eventually released some heavily censored documents that, among other things, concealed the identity and involvement of state representative Ida Ballasiotes in pressuring WMG over its telemarketing operations.

In February, 2000, PLN filed suit in Thurston county superior court seeking complete disclosure of the 59 pages of

documents. In the course of the litigation CI eventually disclosed the bulk of the information. The court upheld the redaction of the names of WMG's prisoner employees showing how much money they earned in 1992-94. The DOC claimed that divulging this information would subject them to threats of strong arming, extortion, etc. [The numbers were highest in 1993, with WMG's top paid prisoner grossing $9,629. In 1992 that same prisoner earned $2,200. The nine prisoners listed earned an average of $1,700 each in 1992; $5,200 in 1993 and $3,000 in 1994. While these wages are substantial by prison and third world standards, where prisoners and sweat shop workers are lucky to earn a few dollars a day, it is readily apparent that these are not living wages and unimprisoned workers cannot survive on these paltry wages.]

The court held that PLN was the prevailing party in the PDA suit and awarded PLN $1,800 in statutory damages and some $22,000 in attorney fees and costs. The case is still pending with the DOC balking at disclosing how many of its employees at the Airway Heights Corrections Center have resigned or been fired due to inappropriate relationships with prisoners. Litigation in the case continues. This appears to be the biggest fee and damage award ever levied against the DOC in a Public Disclosure Act suit. Which means we can expect renewed efforts in the upcoming legislative session to exclude prisoners from the PDA. David Bowman and Shelley Hall of the Seattle law firm Davis,Wright and Tremaine represent PLN in this litigation pro bono. See: PLN v. Washington DOC.

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Prison Legal News v. Washington DOC