Inveterate documents diver David Koenig has had a winning record prying public documents out of government backrooms, but today lost his bid to allow a little more sunshine into the courtrooms. The state Supreme Court decided 7-2 that he, and you, couldn't see all the public records related to the resignation of Federal Way Municipal Court Judge Colleen Hartl (right), including all correspondence to and from presiding muni Judge Michael Morgan - and similar records in all state courts. (Morgan essentially forced Hartl to resign in 2008 after she reportedly admitted having sex with a public defender, adding she loved how his "tight jeans" fit him). Officials provided Koenig 183 pages of documents but refused to hand over correspondence to and from Judge Morgan, claiming the docs were exempt under the Public Records Act (PRA).
And they are, says Justice Susan Owens, writing for the majority today, concluding that courts do not qualify under the PRA as either a "state or local agency." Though the PRA "is a strongly-worded mandate for open government," she writes, the court had made a similar ruling earlier and the legislature failed to amend the law since; legislators therefore "implicitly assented to our [earlier] holding." In dissent, Justice Debra L. Stephens writes: "The majority...make[s] too much of the legislature's failure to modify the PRA's definitions of 'agency' and 'public record' since [the earlier ruling]...given the debatable scope of that decision." In the end, she says, "I believe we do a disservice to interpret the PRA...to exempt entirely the judicial branch of government." Hear hear. When the high court feels you can't read the court documents of a public official produced during a public act, that strongly worded mandate becomes good only for a laugh.