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After a long and expensive court battle over whether billing records for the taxpayer-funded defense of two convicted murderers should be public, the Yakima Herald-Republic

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The Washington Supreme Court Rules That Public-Defender Billing Records Must Be Turned Over to Newspaper

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After a long and expensive court battle over whether billing records for the taxpayer-funded defense of two convicted murderers should be public, the Yakima Herald-Republic (and anyone who's a fan of knowing how tax money is spent) got some good news today.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that billing records from the 2005 double-murder case of Jose Luis Sanchez Jr. must be turned over to the newspaper. Sanchez, along with co-defendant Mario Gil Mendez, cost some $2 million in taxpayer-funded defense expenses, and the newspaper had sued to see how exactly the $2 million was spent.

The court ruled that Sanchez's $1.5-million case costs must be made public, but didn't address Mendez's $560,000 bill.

Speaking by phone with Seattle Weekly, Herald-Republic editor Bob Crider says he sees it as a "victory for the public and public's right to know."

"How great a victory, I don't think we know just yet," says Crider. "I'm hoping it sends a message throughout the state that when the legal system is dealing with the public's money, they need to be much more open and above board with it."

Crider says Sanchez's trial was the most expensive publicly defended case in the county's history.

The brutal double homicide happened when Sanchez and Mendez broke into 21-year-old Ricky Causor's home to rob him and ended up killing him and his and his 3-year-old daughter, Mya.

Mendez pleaded guilty and got 30 years in prison in exchange for testifying against Sanchez, who got life in prison with no possibility of parole.

As Washington State Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen writes in today's 9-0 unanimous decision:

With regard to documents held by nonjudicial branch agencies, we reverse the trial court and remand for the county to comply with the [Public Records Act] consistent with this opinion. Finally, we award costs and reasonable attorney fees to the Herald-Republic but deny daily penalties as premature.

Hooray, government transparency!

 
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