And yet another open-records victory for Armen Yousoufian, the Dumpster-diving seeker of public information: The state Supreme Court today sent Yousoufian's case against King County Executive Ron Sims back to the trial court to refigure the penalty for withholding public documents on the backroom dealings that gave billionaire Paul Allen a new stadium.
The case dates back a decade, and the county has spent hundreds of thousands fighting it, and losing consistently. In 2007, the state appeals court decided the $380,000 awarded to Yousoufian (right, with daughter at Qwest Field) wasn't enough, even if it was a record penalty amount. Now the high court has agreed, issuing altogether five opinions, including dissent and concurrence. Wrote Justice Richard Sanders, author of the lead opinion:
King County failed to reply to Yousoufian's clear request promptly or accurately. King County failed to train its responding personnel or supervise its
response. King County did not comply strictly to the procedures set forth in RCW
42.56.520, failing to seek clarification from Yousoufian when necessary, failing to
give any reason for its delay, failing to set forth an exception for its refusal, failing to
provide any estimate of its delayed response time, and making Yousoufian contact
King County more than 11 times over the course of two years to obtain the requested
information when under the statute only one request should suffice....King County either made no explanation of its noncompliance or misrepresented the truth. As the trial judge found, with proper diligence and attention, King County could have responded accurately to Yousoufian within five days. The potential for public harm was high; the requested records tested the veracity of King County's assertions regarding a pending referendum on a $300 million public financing scheme. The request was time-sensitive, seeking documents relevant to the upcoming referendum, whereas the disclosure of these documents was delayed years beyond the election day without justification.
King County was fined at a rate of $15 a day for its delays - a figure picked by the court from a rate that varies from $5 to $100 a day by state law. Now the lower court must recalculate the fine at "the high end" of the penalty range, along with the cost of attorneys, the supremes said. That could push the county's penalty towards $1 million - in taxpayer (your) money of course.