Norman MacLeod <> wrote:
To: <>
From: "Norman MacLeod" <>
Date: Mon, 19 Jan 2009 10:23:16 -0800
Subject: [proprights] Armen wins!

Supreme Court: $15 daily fines not enough in egregious public records case

• Published January 15, 2009
Advocates of open government won the latest round in the state's costliest public records case ever.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that higher penalties are in order for King County in a long-running public records case dating to 1997 and dealing with the $300 million Seahawks football stadium that went successfully to a public vote.

Justice Richard Sanders wrote the majority opinion (click here) today. It was signed by three other justices including Justice Mary Fairhurst, Charles Johnson and James Johnson.
The split decision included a dissent by Justice Susan Owens that was also signed by Justice Barbara Madsen and Justice Pro Tem Karen Seinfield (in place of Justice Debra Stephens). Chief Justice Gerry Alexander also penned a dissent in part. Click here for links to all five opinions released in the case today, including the majority, one dissent, two concurrences and one split concurrence/dissent.
The effect of the ruling is to send the case of Armen Yousoufian vs. the office of King County Executive Ron Sims back to the trial court for imposition of higher fines than the $15 per day previously awarded – on grounds that King County’s four-year violation of disclosure law deserves higher sanctions. (The $15 in daily fine were higher than an initial court finding of $5 per day, but Yousoufian, a businessman, had appealed previously to the Supreme Court, which agreed.)
The fines on appeal amounted to $123,780, so by moving the per-day fines to the middle or upper end of the $5 to $100 per day range allowed under the law for a four-year failure to comply with law could conceivably quadruple the sanctions, if not increase them even more.
Here's an excerpt of Sanders’ opinion:
To summarize, the unchallenged findings of fact demonstrate King County repeatedly deceived and misinformed Yousoufian for years. King County told Yousoufian it produced all the requested documents, when in fact it had not. King County told Yousoufian archives were being searched and records compiled, when in fact they were not. King County told Yousoufian the information was located elsewhere, when in fact it was not. After years of delay, misrepresentation, and ineptitude on the part of King County, Yousoufian filed suit; nevertheless, it would still take another year for King County to completely and accurately respond to Yousoufian's original request, well past the purpose of his request, the referendum on public financing of a sports stadium.
Here is the opening paragraph of Owens' dissent:
Despite the fact that the penalty in this case was by all accounts the largest ever assessed under the Public Records Act (PRA), chapter 42.56 RCW,1 the majority considers the award so inappropriately low as to require reversal of the trial court. While claiming to review the trial court for abuse of discretion, the majority effectively instructs the trial court to reach the majority's preferred conclusion. In the process, the majority also establishes a multifactor test that endangers trial judges' discretion in future cases. For these reasons, I respectfully dissent.
The case is No. 80081-2.
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