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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Judge Rules Washington State Lawmaker Records Subject To Disclosure

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Thurston County Judge Chris Lanese ruled Friday that individual lawmakers are agencies under the state's Public Records Act and therefore their records such as calendars and emails are subject to disclosure.

A coalition of news outlets have won a partial victory in a public records lawsuit against the Washington Legislature. In a ruling Friday morning, a judge in Thurston County said lawmakers are subject to the state’s public disclosure law.

The Associated Press, public radio and other news media sued the Legislature in September. The lawsuit named the four top legislative leaders who had previously denied requests for their records.

In his ruling, Thurston County Judge Chris Lanese said individual state representatives and senators are agencies as defined by the Public Records Act. That means their records such as calendars and emails are subject to disclosure if the public or members of the media request them.

“And as a result, the court finds that the individual defendants have violated the Public Records Act by failing to respond to the public records request in this case as agencies under the Public Records Act,” Lanese said.

Washington’s Public Records Act requires public officials and agencies to disclosure their records upon request. Lawmakers maintain that because of how legislative records are defined they are mostly exempt from that law.

The judge found the chief clerk of the House and the secretary of the Senate have not violated the law.

Lawyers for the Legislature say they will likely appeal the ruling.

“Legally, the clients have the better position and I’m confident that on appeal the legal position the state Legislature has taken and the individuals legislators have taken will be affirmed by an appellate court,” said attorney Paul Lawrence who represents the Legislature.

Lawrence would not say if he plans to appeal directly to the Washington Supreme Court.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."