Oops! The City Attorney's office, which has been aggressively fighting public disclosure requests, accidentally disclosed way more than it should have about its own internal deliberations over litigation with attorney James Egan and KOMO 4-TV. The documents, released this week to Egan himself, shows that the office thinks it is likely to lose.
City Attorney Pete Holmes' strange response to Egan's request was to sue him. Holmes, a onetime champion of police public disclosure (see his fight with former city attorney Tom Carr), said he was seeking "guidance" from the courts on whether the city should turn over the videos.
At the same time, Holmes' office made the argument that it should not do so for at least three years, pointing to a state law that prohibits disclosure of videos "until final disposition of any criminal or civil litigation which arises from the event or events which were recorded."
No suits, in fact, were pending related to the videos Egan requested. But Holmes' office argued someone might file a suit and therefore the city was obliged to wait until the three-year statue of limitations expired. His office took the same position about a similar request for dash-cam videos by KOMO, leading the TV station to sue.
Egan then made a new public disclosure request to Holmes' office for documents related to himself. On Monday, he got hundreds of pages by e-mail, some of it unredacted.
One released document showed that the City Attorney's office expected to pay $300,000 in pay-outs from public disclosure lawsuits this year--three times the amount paid in 2011.
Another, an e-mail from Assistant City Attorney John Schochet to others in the office, contains what Schochet calls a "draft" of the office's strategy in regard to the Egan and KOMO litigation. The office might win the case at the trial court level, he said. But "KOMO is likely to appeal if we lose, and KOMO likely has a greater than 50/50 change of prevailing on appeal."
Schochet says he is basing that assessment, in part, on recent "pro-disclosure" decisions handed down by the state Supreme Court. He also references a commonly-cited argument that in cases where the Public Records Act seems to conflict with another statue (in this case, the act keeping police videos private), the Public Disclosure Act is supposed to triumph.
"Have we advised SPD that we think our chances at the end of everything are less than 50/50?" Schochet asked in a follow-up e-mail to Assistant City Attorney Mary Perry.
"I wasn't as blunt with SPD," Perry responded.
Here's an idea: Maybe SPD could ask Egan for the docs. He already promptly forwarded them on to Seattle Weekly and a couple of TV stations. In fact, while SW was on the phone with Egan, he read an e-mail from the City Attorney's Bob Scales telling him that his office had "inadvertently" supplied documents that are "attorney client privileged."
"Please return these documents immediately and do not distribute them," Scales ordered.
"The cat's already out of the bag," Egan told SW.