City Looks to Rein in Frivolous Firebomber

Public-records hound Parmalee's prison photo album might get lighter.

Earlier this summer, the office of Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr bubble-wrapped two CDs containing the ID-badge photo of every employee in the department and mailed them to a twice-convicted violent felon at the McNeil Island Corrections Center.That inmate, Allan Parmelee, is devoting much of his two-decades-plus sentence to sending a constant stream of public-records requests to the law-enforcement agencies that helped put him behind bars, asking for personal information ranging from photos to salaries to the height and weight of employees. And so far, government agencies have had a hard time resisting his requests in court. (See "Tongue Lasher," SW, July 2.)Some of the Seattle employees are "disconcerted" by the request, says a city attorney spokesperson, and they seem to have reason for concern. After all, a jury found Parmelee guilty in 2004 of firebombing the cars of two attorneys. One was the opposing counsel in his divorce; the other was representing a friend in a dispute over a diamond ring.Faced with a similar request from Parmelee earlier this year, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg sought a protection order in Superior Court, but Judge Glenna Hall ruled that state law obligated him to comply with the requests. Satterberg has appealed. Shortly after that ruling, the city attorney's office also got its request from Parmelee, and attorneys in the office assumed they had to fulfill it. If an agency illegally withholds public records, it faces daily fines. In September 2007, for example, a Mason County judge ordered the state Department of Corrections to pay Parmelee $19,000 for delays in responding to one of his requests.A list of names, including the title and salary, of every employee in Carr's office was sent to McNeil Island along with the CDs of photos. The discs were returned with a note saying the bubble-pack contained unauthorized materials, so the city sent them to Parmelee's lawyer, Michael Kahrs, on July 25, according to court records.But earlier this month Carr's office filed a petition in Superior Court asking Kahrs to return the photos.The change of heart is the result of two court decisions last month. The first came when Judge Hall backtracked on her original decision and allowed the county to keep employee records out of Parmelee's hands until a more formal March 2009 hearing. Hall also opined that photos aren't necessary to fulfill state disclosure laws.The next day the state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of Bellevue teachers looking to keep sexual-misconduct investigation records away from The Seattle Times. The court found that when a misconduct investigation doesn't actually lead to any disciplinary action, the teachers are entitled to privacy. In her opinion, Supreme Court justice Mary Fairhurst wrote that information can be withheld if revealing it would be both "highly offensive to a reasonable person and is not of legitimate concern to the public."The city attorney's office, in its petition, argues that giving photos to someone like Parmelee meets both criteria.Asked whether he has any intention of returning the photos, Kahrs replied: "No comment." Meanwhile, Parmelee has promised to give any money he receives from his own public-records lawsuits to "a worthy cause." His previous cash award went to paying off fines included in the firebombing sentence.

 
comments powered by Disqus