On November 17, 2017, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) issued guidance on the new reporting requirements enacted by the legislature in 2017. Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1594, which became effective July 23, 2017, requires all agencies to maintain a log of all public records requests submitted to the agency, and imposes more detailed reporting requirements for agencies that spend at least $100,000 on staff and legal costs associated with fulfilling public records requests in the past fiscal year. See RCW 40.14.026(4), (5). These detailed reporting requirements include the average time to acknowledge and close out records requests; the number of requests abandoned by requesters; the type of requester (i.e., law firm, media, incarcerated persons, etc.), to the extent that information is known; and the estimated agency staff time spent on each request. RCW 40.14.026(5).

The JLARC guidance document provides agencies direction on the detailed reporting requirements, including (1) how to calculate the $100,000 threshold and (2) for agencies exceeding the $100,000 threshold, what data they should be collecting for submission by July 1, 2018.

Continue Reading Public Record Reporting Requirements: Guidance Issued for Washington Public Agencies

On Friday, July 7, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit concluded that photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police activity in public “falls squarely within the First Amendment right of access to information.” With this holding, the Third Circuit joined the “growing consensus,” of the Circuit Courts of Appeal: the First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have previously reached the same conclusion.

In Fields v. City of Philadelphia, No. 16-1650 (3d Cir. July 7, 2017), the Court addressed the claims of two plaintiffs. The first, Amanda Geraci, filmed police arresting a protester at a 2012 anti-fracking protest in Philadelphia. After she began filming, an officer pinned her against a wall, preventing her from recording the arrest. The second, Richard Fields, used his iPhone to take a photograph of police breaking up a 2013 party. An officer saw Fields taking a photograph and arrested him, issuing Fields a citation. Neither Fields nor Geraci interfered with the police.

Continue Reading Third Circuit Joins “Growing Consensus” to Hold First Amendment Protects Right to Record Police Officers Conducting Official Duties in Public

A Washington Court of Appeals held that the Public Employees’ Collective Bargaining Act, chapter 41.56 RCW (PECBA), is not an “other statute” exempting records from disclosure under the Public Records Act, chapter 42.56 RCW (PRA), because the PECBA does not “expressly prohibit or exempt the release of specific records or information.” SEIU 775 v. Freedom Found., No. 48881-7-II (Apr. 25, 2017). This case represents the latest in a string of PRA disputes between local chapters of SEIU and the Freedom Foundation. In two opinions issued in 2016 (see here and here), the court addressed two separate disputes over the “commercial purposes” exemption of the PRA, RCW 42.56.070(9). SEIU is the union representing the individual workers who deliver personal care services to functionally disabled persons.

This latest lawsuit arose out of the Freedom Foundation’s request for Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) records regarding the times and locations of trainings and meetings for the workers. The meetings were held at state facilities and not open to the public; and, DSHS provided time for SEIU to meet with the workers at these meetings. After receiving notice of the Freedom Foundation’s request from DSHS, SEIU sought to enjoin release of the records, concerned that the Freedom Foundation intended to show up at these meetings to discourage the workers from participating in the union.

Continue Reading Washington Court Holds Public Employees’ Collective Bargaining Act Does Not Exempt Information from Public Disclosure

The Application of Open Records Laws to Publicly Funded Science” by Lauren Kurtz, Natural Resources & Environment, American Bar Association Section of Environmental, Energy, and Resources, Spring 2017

The referenced article discusses the potential exemption from public disclosure of scientific research. Included is discussion of the well-known Washington Supreme Court decision in Progressive Animal Welfare Society v. University of Washington, 125 Wn.2d 243 (1994) (addressing internal, peer-review correspondence). See also, Servais v. Port of Bellingham, 127 Wn.2d 820 (1995) (explaining application of “research data” exemption in Washington’s Public Records Act).

Everett Fighting Inmate’s Request For Bikini Barista Videos

By The Associated Press from Tri-City Herald [Washington]

The city of Everett is suing to block a prison inmate’s request for copies of surveillance videos of bikini baristas.

The Daily Herald reports the city filed a lawsuit in Snohomish County Superior Court last week seeking to prevent Jamie Wallin from obtaining videos under the state’s public records act.

In court filings, Everett attorneys say the court shouldn’t “feed this repeat sex offender’s perversions” by giving him videos featuring young women stripping and engaging in sexual conduct.

Continue Reading Will Bikini Barista Videos Be Bared Under Public Records Act?

In Gronquist v. State of Washington, Department of Corrections, Division II of the Court of Appeals held that RCW 42.56.565(1) prohibits an award of PRA penalties to a prison inmate serving a criminal sentence absent a showing of bad faith by the agency who denied the request.

Prison inmate Gronquist had requested several records from the Department of Corrections, including certain surveillance videos of the prison where he was incarcerated.  DOC withheld the surveillance videos as exempt investigative records essential to effective law enforcement under RCW 42.56.240.  DOC also inadvertently failed to disclose one page in a 96-page production of documents, which it later provided to Gronquist upon discovery of the error.  The trial court awarded penalties of $15 per day ($260 total) to Gronquist, but found no bad faith on DOC’s part.  Gronquist appealed on several grounds.

Continue Reading No PRA Penalties for Prisoners Absent Bad Faith; Prison Video Surveillance Properly Withheld

375 staff hours at a cost of nearly $15,000 is the non-billable bill for the City of Port Orchard, Washington to fulfill a public records request according to an article in the Kitsap Sun.  Unlike federal agencies and governments in other states, Washington state government agencies can only charge a records requester for the cost of copies. Search time is simply a cost of government in Washington, although more local governments are tracking search expenses and other public records statistics to educate the public and the State Legislature that transparency is not free.

Deciding a dispute between a newspaper and a police department based on an open records request, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin has ruled that a municipality cannot impose a fee on a requester of a public record for “the actual, necessary, and direct costs incurred by the authority (including staff time) of deleting nondisclosable information included within the responsive records.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper had requested certain records as part of an investigation into crime data classification. The Milwaukee Police Department agreed, but asked the paper to pay, in advance, the anticipated amount of approximately $4,000 to cover staff time to review and redact the hundreds of incident reports to remove Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, and crime victim and suspect identifying information. The newspaper sued, seeking judgment compelling the City to release the records without prepayment of any fees assessed for redacting information. (The newspaper agreed, for purposes of the summary judgment, that the City’s estimates of the time required to review and redact the requested records were made in good faith and were not intended to generate a profit.)

Continue Reading City Can’t Impose Fee for Redacting Data [From the International Association of Municipal Attorneys]