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Even if Allan Parmelee is allowed to keep filing records requests to his hearts content with every governmental agency in the state, the Supreme Court

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Speaking of Inmates and Public Records

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Even if Allan Parmelee is allowed to keep filing records requests to his hearts content with every governmental agency in the state, the Supreme Court says he has no right to actually receive those records. (Background on Parmelee's case is here.)

In a 5 - 4 ruling today, the state high court decided that the Olympic Corrections Center was within its rights to deny inmate Michael Livingston access to records in the personnel file of a corrections officer. The DOC filled the request and sent it over to the jail. But Livingston was handed a note saying the jail did not allow inmates access to personal records of the staff working with them so the file would have to be sent to someone else of his choosing on the outside.

Livingston took the case to court with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Coalition for Open Government. But in the majority opinion, Justice Barbara Madsen argues:

The public records act requires the department to release its records to the public. However, whether the Department must allow them inside a correctional facility is a distinct issue, subject to different statutory obligations.

Justice James Johnson wrote the dissenting opinion saying that simply producing a DOC record and mailing it to a DOC facility then withholding it from the requester does not actually make a record available as required by law. He writes:

But the law requires agencies to make records available, and I cannot agree that an agency makes a record available by mailing the record to itself and then withholding the record from the person who requested it.

So what does all this mean for Parmelee? In Madsen's majority opinion she does allude to the issue of who is entitled to request public records, writing:

It is well settled that a reviewing court interprets the disclosure provisions of the public records act liberally and the exemptions from disclosure narrowly. In general, an agency must disclose a public record unless a statutory exemption applies.

Nowhere in the Revised Code of Washington does it say inmates cannot have access to public records, so from that line of thinking, Parmelee is still within his rights to keep filing requests. But even if the Appellate Court currently considering that question sides with him, the Supreme Court ruling means the DOC could just send the records he seeks to jail staff with no obligation to actually let him see them.

 
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