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.