OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The emails and text messages of Washington state lawmakers are subject to public disclosure, a judge said Friday as he ruled in favor of a media coalition led by The Associated Press.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese sided with the group that sued in September, challenging the Washington Legislature's assertion that lawmakers are excluded from stricter disclosure rules that apply to other elected officials and agencies.
Attorneys for the Washington Legislature argued that lawmakers exempted most of their records from the state's public records act through a series of changes in past years and therefore were not violating the law.
The news organizations filed requests for records from all 147 Washington lawmakers last year, including daily calendars, text messages and documentation of staff complaints against House and Senate members.
The Legislature has made a series of changes to the state's public records act in the decades since it was passed by voter initiative in 1972. The media's lawsuit focuses on how lawmakers have interpreted a 1995 revision to a 1971 definition of legislative records. Legislative lawyers have regularly cited that change as a reason to withhold records.
Those attorneys have further argued that later changes in 2005 and 2007 definitively removed lawmakers from disclosure requirements.
In a brief filed last week at the court's request, two deputy solicitors general for Attorney General Bob Ferguson disputed lawmakers' stance, noting that the state's public records law is broad, covering every office, department, division and commission, among others.
"Individual legislative offices, their officers and employees, and other legislative agencies plainly fall within this broad coverage," deputy solicitors general Alan Copsey and Callie Castillo wrote.
Besides AP, the groups involved in the lawsuit are: public radio's Northwest News Network, KING-TV, KIRO 7, Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, The Spokesman-Review, the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, Sound Publishing, Tacoma News Inc. and The Seattle Times.