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Washington DOC Colludes with Employees to Bar Public Records Request; Pays $65,000

The Washington Coalition for Open Government (the Coalition) obtained a $65,000 payment to settle a lawsuit against two state agencies for violation of the Public Records Act (PRA).

The 2010 lawsuit alleged the state Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the Department of Corrections (DOC) violated the PRA in their attempt to cover up evidence they helped a group of guards sue DOC. The guards’ suit sought to prevent DOC from disclosing public records sought by prisoner Allan Parmelee.

In 2005, Parmelee sought records through the PRA on the guards, which the guards and the DOC alleged were sought as harassment. Parmelee subsequently received a financial settlement for DOC’s failure to disclose the documents (See: PLN May 2007, p. 33). His efforts and continued use of the PRA led the state legislature to limit a prisoner’s rights under the PRA.

Before that change, DOC was obligated to make the disclosures to Parmelee. The DOC was reluctantly considering releasing the information, but then the guards sued to stop it. Although the AGO was representing DOC in that suit, the AGO employee emailed the guards a sample document to assist them in their suit. The stated employee “provided this form for informational purposes only,” and not as legal advice.

The AGO and DOC tried to avoid releasing that email, but it eventually came out through the Coalition’s PRA request after it filed suit. The suit was settled in May 2012. The AGO and DOC each agreed to pay the Coalition $32,500.

Toby Nixon, the Coalition’s president and a member of the Kirkland City Council called the actions of the DOC and AGO “troubling.” Of their actions, he said, “State agencies should not help people sue an agency just because the agency doesn’t want to release records.”

Source: Seattle-Times

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