Twenty years after the individuals adopted Washington’s Public Data initiative in 1972, the state Legislature added the admonishment: “The individuals insist on remaining knowledgeable in order that they could keep management over the devices they’ve created.”
Now, 31 years later, I fear that our skill to keep up that management has been marginalized by elected officers, together with the state’s high lawyer, Lawyer Normal Bob Ferguson.
You’ll suppose that, given his function because the individuals’s lawyer, his company would outperform all different businesses on Public Data Act compliance. Nevertheless it doesn’t, and he doesn’t appear to care. Ferguson’s promised management throughout his campaigns relating to the vital ideas of clear governance in a democracy hardly seems the place it actually issues.
Anecdotally, the 2021 state Redistricting commissioners used digital platforms like Sign, with its disappearing ink, when negotiating voting districts in late 2021. As soon as Ferguson realized of it, he was effectively positioned to sanction such conduct, however he stored silent. Not even an admonishment.
Only a few of these communications have been ever recovered or made publicly accessible, regardless of the import of the proceedings.
One Redistricting commissioner admitted to destroying textual content messages, in response to a Crosscut article. But, AG Ferguson took no corrective motion. Not a scolding. Not a brand new rule. Not any steerage.
Statistical knowledge from Washington’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee 2021 report present different businesses like Pierce County outperforming the Lawyer Normal’s Workplace. The Lawyer Normal’s Workplace responded to solely 193 requests throughout the five-day interval required by legislation. Pierce County closed 2,617.
The AG’s Workplace averaged 79 days to answer requests, rating 205 out of the 217 state and native businesses that reported to JLARC. Pierce County’s common was 23 days. The Lawyer Normal’s Workplace reported spending $200,990.00 in prices in Public Data Act litigation whereas Pierce County reported spending solely $4,365.
The outdated strategies the Lawyer Normal’s workplace makes use of to supply public information are much more insulting.
By the use of background, I’m a lawyer who has litigated towards the federal government for greater than three a long time. In a single politically charged case, a possible juror commented concerning the AG’s prolific lawsuits saying “that’s the reason they name him Bobbie Sue.” A memorable second.
The transcript of jury choice is a useful public file, particularly for trial attorneys needing to know the dangers of assembling an neutral jury. Sadly, when you made a public information request to the Lawyer Normal’s Workplace for the “Bobbie Sue” transcript, his workplace would possible take greater than 5 days to provide it to you.
You in all probability wouldn’t get it by e-mail. As an alternative, you would need to look forward to his workplace to inform you of the prices for duplicating it. Then you might choose to buy it by sending a test or cash order through normal submit — no on-line web site the place you should use PayPal or Apple Pay. In the meantime tens of millions of Washington residents renew and pay for his or her driver’s licenses and automobile tabs on-line. Drivers pays their Good To Go! tolls digitally too.
Wait, the method will get higher. Ten days later, his workplace would snail-mail again the transcript burned onto a DVD or a thumb drive that prices $6.34 for one-time use. No easy emailing of a PDF with negligible price.
Sure, in a state routinely ranked among the many most technologically ahead, the AG’s Workplace embraces Twentieth-century expertise that inflates prices and delays public publicity. That may be a deliberate alternative.
This is identical workplace that has shared tons of of hundreds of paperwork with my workplace through digital supply in litigation. The AG’s workplace’s acknowledged justification for the arcane strategies? “Ease of supply.” Supposedly common mail is “extra constant and extra environment friendly for enterprise wants” given the “completely different ranges of sophistication” of public information requesters. One easy answer: Give requesters the selection.
Right here’s one other story. My workplace requested public information from the AG in 2018. His workplace missed deadlines and sought a number of extensions, producing piecemeal information in additional than 30 installments with quite a few duplicates for 3 years. The information have been principally nonresponsive with tons of of fully redacted pages. Regardless of my objections, his workplace stored doing the identical factor.
At one level whereas distracted in trial with AGO attorneys, I missed a notification that an installment was prepared. Inside a month my workplace figured it out and made the fee, however his workplace refused to launch all of the information. The assigned lawyer was adamant that after 30 days the request was completely closed. That workplace didn’t even produce a primary installment in 30 days.
Pissed off, I seemed for some authorized authority for this rule, however there is no such thing as a 30-day cutoff within the Public Data Act. The AGO made that up and put it in mannequin guidelines for different businesses to observe. Now, even the Legislature threatens to completely shut public file requests inside 30 days with out immediate fee.
My workplace introduced the AG’s workplace into courtroom for judicial evaluate of its problematic response on this specific case with the expectation that the AG could be motivated to do higher.
Disappointingly, his consultant insisted in a letter that his protocols have been “strong” and refused to make any modifications. The AG wouldn’t comply with ship public information digitally or modify his 30-day cutoff. As an alternative, the AGO paid my workplace $150,000 to go away earlier this yr.
I used to be simply retained by one other public information requester who has practically equivalent complaints as my workplace.
The general public needs to be involved that we have now misplaced management of a strong instrument we created in Bob Ferguson’s Lawyer Normal’s Workplace. His lack of management shows a harmful anti-democratic cynicism of the general public’s proper to know. It’s well-known he’s exploring working for governor. If he desires the keys to the mansion, we want to ensure he rethinks and displays the general public’s curiosity in, and wish for, a clear authorities earlier than voting for him once more.