The Battle Over Inmates Getting Public Records Starts Swinging to the Government

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It's been a winning week for government agencies trying to keep records out of the hands of the criminal and allegedly criminal. Today, as reported on PI.com, King County Jail nurses won a court order to prevent two men accused of murder from getting access to their full names and other personnel records that would normally be available to the public.

The ruling comes on the heels of a big blow Wednesday to frequent records-requesting inmate Allan Parmelee, a man who has devoted his time behind bars to requesting volumes of records, often including names, salaries, and other information on county employees. Under a law passed last session in Olympia, King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson awarded Prosecutor Dan Satterberg's office an injunction against Parmelee, a twice-convicted firebomber profiled in SW last July. Last summer there was no law on the books preventing anyone from accessing records under state sunshine laws based on their motivations. Accordingly, a judge ruled then that Parmelee's many requests had to be filled, even if he was making them for the purpose of harassing employees.

The law passed by the legislature this session says that if a convicted criminal serving jail time makes records requests that a government agency feels are for the purpose of harassing or harming someone, the agency can attempt to block that person from getting records that would otherwise be public. The law passed in March of this year and by June, Satterberg's office had filed for a court order that would not only keep them from having to fill Parmelee's many outstanding requests, but would prevent them from having to fill future ones either.

Robinson made his ruling based on Parmelee's criminal history, which includes setting fire to vehicles owned by the husband of the attorney representing his ex-wife in their divorce and later another attorney, as well as direct threats he has allegedly made to county personnel. Parmelee's many attempts to get records, Robinson ruled, "were made to harass and intimidate the agencies to which the requests were submitted and the public employees who are the subjects of the requests."

Robinson goes on to say that filling Parmelee's requests "would likely threaten the safety of public employees, officials, and their families."

Doug Honig, spokesperson for the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, says the ACLU opposed the new law. But presently, he said, the organization is not formally involved in challenging the new law in court. It's worth noting, he says, that the injunction won by King County nurses today, does not fall under the scope of the new law since the law itself only applies to people behind bars who have already been convicted.

 
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