I assume that I am one of many who is appalled at the spectacle of Eric Hood’s 100 lawsuits seeking audit records of small rural school districts and other local government agencies. As your …
I assume that I am one of many who is appalled at the spectacle of Eric Hood’s 100 lawsuits seeking audit records of small rural school districts and other local government agencies. As your article demonstrated, Hood has no interest in actually obtaining these records. He only seeks to bully these entities into paying him “attorney fees” — though he has not actually hired attorneys — in order to settle his specious claims. This has netted him over $800,000 that presumably could be better used for the local functions of school districts and other agencies.
What’s going on here? How is such egregious blackmail not only tolerated, but performed under the observation of state courts?
The answer lies in Washington’s Public Records Act. In order to assure that public agencies do not frustrate legitimate citizen requests for records, the act makes agencies subject to awards of “reasonable attorney fees” to citizens who are required to get a court order when an agency fails to provide requested records. A good law, but subject to abuse by a serial litigant like Hood. Small local agencies are faced with either paying substantial legal costs to defend, or pay a lesser ransom amount to highwaymen such as Hood.
I am a retired attorney who brought a leading open meetings lawsuit in Alaska. I have a strong interest in open government, so I am outraged by this abuse of open records laws. I suggest two remedies.
First, Washington’s records law should be revised to authorize not just “any person” to demand audit records, but that this standing be limited to persons with a demonstrable financial interest, e.g. a local taxpayer, or investigative interest, e.g., a newspaper.
Second, the statute should authorize an award of attorney fees to an agency forced to defend against bad faith litigation, which Hood’s plainly is.
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Saturday, January 2, 2021 Report this