Jefferson County commissioners approve settlement in public records case

Leader news staff
news@ptleader.com
Posted 9/10/20

Jefferson County commissioners have approved a $187,365 settlement to end the 2018 lawsuit over public records with Joseph D’Amico.

Commissioners approved a settlement offer last month in …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Jefferson County commissioners approve settlement in public records case

Posted

Jefferson County commissioners have approved a $187,365 settlement to end the 2018 lawsuit over public records with Joseph D’Amico.

Commissioners approved a settlement offer last month in the case, which was filed in 2018 in Clallam County Superior Court.

D’Amico had been seeking documents under Washington’s Public Records Act about the 2016 suicide of an inmate at the Jefferson County Jail.

County officials said some of the records that were given to D’Amico had been redacted — meaning some information in those documents was blackened out — but later admitted that some of the redactions, and some of the explanations for the redactions, had been made in error.

County officials said the settlement was approved “to avoid costly ongoing litigation over inadvertent errors the county readily admits, and to cap potential damages.”

A total of 128 pages of the documents that were released were called into question, and county officials said they could have been facing a maximum penalty of $4.66 million, as well as attorney fees that could rise beyond $200,000.

“Jefferson County strongly supports the Public Records Act and we work hard at making government transparent,” said Commissioner Greg Brotherton, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, said in a news release.

“We get hundreds of records requests every year, many of them large and complex. Despite investing significant resources in dollars, a full-time public records officer, staff time in departments, computers, software, and legal technical advice on correctly fulfilling records requests, occasional technical mistakes still can and will happen,” Brotherton said.

Officials also complained that D’Amico waited 364 days before filing a legal challenge over the records that had been released by the county.

“As soon as the county realizes we’ve made a mistake, we fix it,” added Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley.

“It is unfortunate that Mr. D’Amico waited almost a full year, just one day before the statute of limitations would have run, before making the county aware there was an error in the records we provided, and then sued the county for penalties for the period he waited,” Morley said. 

“If he had informed the county sooner, we would have fixed the problem sooner. That would have saved taking funds that should go for public services for everybody, and using them to pay Mr. D’Amico for penalties and attorney’s fees instead,” Morley added.

The settlement was approved on a 3-0 vote by county commissioners
Aug. 17.

D’Amico said in a statement that the county committed more than 2,000 separate violations of the Public Records Act.

The lawsuit has been labeled the Lorecki Public Records Case, after the name of the inmate who killed himself while in custody.

D’Amico said penalties in the case — which could have maxed out at $100 per day, per violation — could have risen to $129 million, which he noted would have been the county’s entire budget for four years.

“I had no intention of bankrupting the county,” D’Amico said. “I just wanted Tommy Lorecki to have his story told and ensure this didn’t happen to anyone else in the future. The settlement amount of $187,356 accomplished that.” 

According to a statement sent to The Leader from D’Amico, he said he took a personal interest in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office’s internal investigation of the death of Thomas G. “Tommy” Lorecki because D’Amico had sponsored the Port Townsend man in 2015 at both in-patient and out-patient drug rehab.

D’Amico, the owner of Security Services Northwest, Inc., had attended Port Townsend High School with Lorecki’s older brother Marty.

Tommy Lorecki, 48, reportedly hanged himself Sept. 16, 2016 while an inmate at the Jefferson County Jail. D’Amico noted he had earlier been arrested in Port Townsend on suspicion of DUI and third-degree driving with a suspended license.

D’Amico added he was not satisfied with how then-sheriff Dave Stanko had his own staff investigate Lorecki’s death, rather than bringing in an outside law enforcement agency.

Lorecki had previously attempted suicide and had been taken off suicide watch and was alone in his cell when he died, D’Amico said.

The internal investigation did not fault jail corrections staff, D’Amico added.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment