The State Supreme Court added another curve to Armen Yousoufian's decade-long, public-records roller-coaster ride today, approving what amounts to both an increase and decrease in the money King County owes him for refusing to disclose hidden documents. He sought records on the backroom deal between the county and billionaire Paul Allen over the building of Qwest Field - records he has yet to fully receive 13 years later
The court affirmed but modified an earlier appeals court decision, agreeing the county should be fined for its records cover-up under then-executives Gary Locke and Ron Sims, who weren't willing to fully detail the stadium's true costs. Rather than send the case back to the trial court to decide an amount, however, the Supreme Court set its own penalty, $45 per day for 8,252 days, awarding Yousoufian a total of $371,340 plus reasonable attorney fees and costs. But there's the rub.
While the fine far exceeds the original $114,000 awarded Yousoufian in 2001, the new amount is about half the $800,000 the court had awarded Yousoufian after a new appeal last year. And even the $800,000 didn't really cover all his time and expenses, he said; he was hoping for $1 million, a fine he thought would "send a very strong message. These aren't their records."
The opinion in the $800,000 case, written by Justice Richard Sanders, was withdrawn after the county complained Sanders had a conflict of interest because of his own open-records case, related to documents he sought as part of a disciplinary action taken against him. Sanders did not participate in the rehearing or today's ruling.
The high court's decision clears up some of the confusion about how much an agency should be fined, per day, when it violates the Open Records Act. But the amount of fines, based on an arbitrary sliding scale, should still be decided by trial judges, the court said.