The lawsuit filed by the City of Seattle against attorney James Egan, who requested 36 SPD dash-cam videos under the Public Records Act, was denied, threatened to sue the City, and was subsequently sued himself by City Attorney Pete Holmes' office, was "completely unnecessary," according to a ruling handed down June 27.
"I think the judge realized it was meaningless litigation," says Egan. "It's been a long process."
The most pressing issue Judge Lum took with the City's lawsuit is the fact that Pete Holmes and Co. were already jockeying in court with KOMO over the very same issue, concluding that the lawsuit brought against Egan was, at least in part, intended to benefit the City in the already-underway legal wrangling with the TV station. While the City has said it sued Egan to seek clarification on the law, and that the state privacy act prevents dash-cam videos from becoming public until any litigation surrounding them is concluded, KOMO and Egan, according to court documents, described the move as "forum shopping," in which, by requesting a preliminary injunction in the Egan suit, "the City was able to obtain an expedited hearing that would be heard in this Court prior to the summary judgment hearing scheduled with Judge Rogers (presiding over the KOMO lawsuit)."
At the time the Egan lawsuit was filed discovery had already been conducted in the KOMO lawsuit, and the parties were prepared to argue summary judgment motions. Court documents note KOMO has called the Egan lawsuit an "end run" around the case it was involved in, and an attempt to get "two bites at the apple" - arguing that the City was hoping to "avoid facts that might reflect poorly on the City on appeal."
"I think they viewed me as a lesser opponent," hypothesizes Egan, who contends KOMO's "$500-an-hour" lawyers were "pummeling" the City on its dash-cam stance before the suit was filed against him.
"I was a vehicle to get precedent to turn and use [in the KOMO lawsuit]," says Egan.
A representative from the City Attorney's office had no comment other than to say they're currently reviewing the court decision.
Of the City's lawsuit, Judge Lum says in his recent ruling:
The biggest problem with this lawsuit is that it was completely unnecessary. The City had no reason to sue Mr. Egan. The KOMO litigation was already filed, discovery had been conducted and the City was going to get a judicial determination from Judge Rogers whether the Washington Law on Privacy was "an other statute" under the PRA.
The present lawsuit was filed later, with later case scheduling deadlines and dispositive motion cutoff dates. Normally, there would be no reason to think that a party could get a quicker resolution in the later filed case. The only reason the City was able to obtain an expedited hearing from this Court was because it requested a preliminary injunction, not because any true emergency existed. And no matter what the decision at the trial level, it was obvious that the losing party would seek appellate review. Even if this Court had been prepared to rule prior to Judge Rogers, its decision would not have been final or binding in any way. The City was no closer to a final resolution of its potential liability than if it had not sued Mr. Egan and had just litigated all issues in front of Judge Rogers. And Mr. Egan would have been spared substantial time and money.
The court cannot think of any reason to bring this lawsuit other than to obtain improper advantage and to increase cost to Mr. Egan in violation of CR 11, and the Court would so find. There was simply no need to sue Mr. Egan. The city was going to have a judicial determination of its policy from Judge Rogers. Whoever lost in front of Judge Rogers could seek appellate review. That appellate review would have been orderly and logical, unlike our current procedural posture. This court cannot imagine any scenario where the Washington Supreme Court would encourage the filing of multiple lawsuits with the parties picking and choosing which to pursue depending on the judicial assignment.
Judge Lum's ruling also notes that the City's lawsuit fails to prove that non-disclosure of the dash-cam videos would be in the public interest.
"The City has presented no evidence that non-disclosure of these particular videos would be in the public interest, yet it was the City's burden to do so," the ruling reads.
Egan, as one might imagine, is encouraged by the decision.
"It was reckless litigation, and a total waste of taxpayers' money," he says. "[The City] got smacked, and I hope they learned a lesson.
"This is a victory for the public interest."