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Public Records lawsuit filed against Seattle for withholding texts and emails from press

Olympia, Wash., October 22, 2023—On October 20, the Citizen Action Defense Fund (CADF) filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle for its failure to provide public records pursuant to a request made by unDivided Media LLC and podcast host Brandi Kruse regarding a controversial vote by a Seattle Councilmember.

Jackson Maynard

“The Public Records Act exists so that citizens and the media alike can hold their elected officials accountable. There is no legitimate reason it should take five months to provide the records in question, particularly given the narrow scope of the request,” said Jackson Maynard, Executive Director of CADF regarding the public records lawsuit against the City of Seattle. “Brandi Kruse is a respected member of the Seattle media, and in withholding these records until after the November election, the city is acting in bad faith. Period. Unfortunately, this is not the first recent instance of Seattle violating public records law to protect a city official from scrutiny. We intend to seek the full remedies available under the law to hold the city accountable for its political gamesmanship.”  

On June 6, 2023, Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis voted to reject a proposal by the city attorney to prosecute drug offenses. His vote was contrary to statements he’d made in support of the measure just hours before the vote took place. On June 21, 2023, in an effort to ascertain whether special interests influenced his vote, Kruse filed a narrow public records request, seeking text messages, emails, and phone calls to and from the Councilmember over a ten-hour period prior to and after the vote.  

The city indicated it would provide the records on August 18, 2023 (after the primary in which Councilmember Lewis would be on the ballot). The city provided only 578 emails on that date which were comprised largely of constituent communications to Councilmember Lewis expressing support or opposition to the vote. The city then indicated it would not be able to provide any additional records until November 10, 2023 (after the general election in which Councilmember Lewis would again be on the ballot). As of the filing of this lawsuit, no other records have been provided. The suit seeks all outstanding responsive records in addition to a court award of attorney’s fees, costs, and penalties.

Readers may recall that the Citizen Action Defense Fund is also investigating allegations of discrimination against former Lynnwood Public Facilitates District board member Vivian Dong by current Executive Janet Pope and former Board Chair Mike Miller.

In his letter to Lynnwood Mayor Christines Frizzell, City Council, and The District Board members, Maynard cited a possible retaliatory motive by The District’s Board and a “strong likelihood that violations of the state Open Public meetings act occurred” as justification for CADF’s investigation into the actions by Pope and the Board towards fellow Board member Vivian Dong. To view the letter in its entirety, click here.

CADF Leading the Fight for the Rights of Washingtonians

Founded in the wake of the COVID crisis, the government watchdog nonprofit files lawsuits, represents affected parties and intervenes in cases when the state enacts laws that violate the state or federal constitutions, when government officials take actions that infringe upon the First Amendment or other constitutional rights, or when agencies promulgate rules in violation of state law. It is led by a board of directors and advised by a team of experienced lawyers from across the state.

Jackson Maynard brings solid experience to the position including litigation in state and federal courts. After graduating from law school in Florida, he started his career as a prosecutor and litigated in the civil arena as a construction lawyer for the Florida Department of Transportation and in private practice.

He has also been in the trenches crafting legislation and policy first as a staff attorney with the Florida House of Representatives then spending almost eight years as senior staff counsel for the Washington State Senate handling Transportation Committee and playing a key role in staffing investigations into
government misconduct led by the Law and Justice Committee.

SOURCE: Citizen Action Defense Fund with some additions by the Lynnwood Times.

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