OLYMPIA – The Department of Social and Health Services has reached an agreement with The Seattle Times to settle a lawsuit filed by the newspaper over a public records request made in September 2009.
There were no court hearings or rulings on liability in this case. Instead, the Department offered to pay $50,000 in penalties and $39,000 in attorney fees to resolve the lawsuit, which The Seattle Times accepted.
The newspaper argued that the Department’s initial response in December 2009 and February 2010 was incomplete. The Seattle Times filed a lawsuit under the Public Records Act in July 2010, challenging the sufficiency of the Department’s response.
In conversations with the Times following filing of the lawsuit, the Department determined that the newspaper’s request was much broader than first understood. The Department immediately began extensive efforts to locate and produce the additional records. After numerous installments of records, the Department completed its initial response in late September 2012. The Department’s search included more than 100 employees working more than 1,500 hours, resulting in the production of some 160,000 pages of e-mails. The response to this request ultimately produced more records than any other request previously processed by the Department.
In January 2011, the newspaper made an additional request for the same type of records, which the Department continues to process, producing several thousand additional e-mails to date.
The Department takes very seriously its responsibility to respond to public records requests while being mindful of the volume of records requested and processing costs. The cost of the settlement must come from program funding, not the Department’s liability insurance pool.