As some may have noticed I haven’t published as many stories as of late. It is because I am going through 100’s of 1000’s of public records.
I have also begun the task of creating a website with all of those records, all of this is very time consuming. Add to that when I find a disturbing email or document sometimes I have to back and manually search through up to 10 years worth of records in order to understand the basis for what I am seeing.
I also have several part time jobs, I am an animal rescuer, a minister, have kids and grand-kids who need my attention so please bear with me here.
I have been meaning to do this post but I’m pretty far behind. I get lots of emails asking me how someone can access public records for themselves so I’m going to lay it out for you here.
First you need to really understand what you want: It needs to be crystal clear. If you are not sure about all of it then ask for what you do know you want and then figure the rest out later. You can make as many requests as you need to by law.
The next step that will follow is that the agencies will contact you over and over again trying to get you to change your requests or pare them down into nothing so it helps to know exactly what you want from the start.
One of the best tactics is to call the person who is doing the public records request and talk it out with them. They are often more aware of what records you would need and those you don’t.
For instance, a couple of weeks ago I sent out a request for 7 different peoples’ emails and phone records. I asked for all of their h-key logs when what I actually meant was simply their internet browsing history. The PR specialists almost had a stroke and called me to make sure that that is really what I wanted, once we sat and talked about it we realized that that was the very last thing I wanted and it would’ve made an insurmountable amount of work for people that didn’t need to be done. I just got a call today, same thing and once I explained my mix up between h-keys and browsing history I thought the poor gal was going to cry with relief.
By the same token, I was trying to get some records I thought would help me in an investigation I am doing and got a call about that too. Turns out the records I was requesting wouldn’t have helped me get any closer to the truth, what I needed was entirely different.
Understanding that so far I have a great “relationship” with the PR specialists but that is not always the case. I have one poor woman I “yell” at about once a month, but I do say: Please tell the attorneys… because I know it’s not her personally who is making these very bad and very costly legal mistakes, it is what she is being told to do, or not do.
That being said we do have several PR Specialists who are not afraid to destroy public records and direct others to do so and if that fails they will take out what they want after the records have been submitted. We now have proof of that.
There is also the fact that some people will get some records, while other people will get other records, we have seen that over a 100 times in Snohomish County, it just depends on who you are and what they are trying to hide.
It is always a good idea to keep a civil relationship with the PR people and to remember that they are just doing their jobs and 90% of the time they can only do what the higher ups “allow” them to do.
If you don’t believe me try this – Once you have decided that the communication has broken down and you might not get the records you requested, Send a request for all emails and phone calls to do with your records request, and anything with your name on it. You will see who is pulling the strings and who is responsible for the violations of the Public Records Act. At that point I’d suggest you send out a request for all of their emails and phone records for that time period to see who is pulling their chains. Although it is a 3 step process it will give you answers and if they realize you are willing to do that they may not be as likely to stonewall you in the future.
If all else fails: Most everyone has a few friends or family, possibly even a group that is interested in the same information. Get as many of them as you can to send in identical public records requests. The reasoning is this: They can handle one PRR suit from you, they have lots of lawyers paid with by your tax-dollars and they are not afraid to waste them, but if they have to fight 5 to 25 people they have a different beast on their hands.
The language that you use is very important as well. Citing RCW 42.56 is mandatory. It is also helpful to cite to different case laws for several reasons 1) They’ll know you have an idea of what you’re talking about. 2) They are less likely to come back and lie about what is exempt from public records.
It is much harder to screw with someone who knows their rights. The link down below will give you a listing of cases but it has not been updated since July of this year and several important cases have come up since then including Block v Gold Bar and Nissen v Pierce County.
Nissen basically says that if a county, city or state actor uses a personal cell phone then all records relating to county city or state business is open to the Public Records Act.
Gold Bar v Block was basically the 1st Division of the Washington State Appeals court rewriting the public records law and removing responsibility and accountability from all agencies to provide records. In other words as a favor they destroyed most of our rights to public records, the sad thing is that our piece of garbage Washington State attorney general demanded it be published (it was originally an unpublished decision which means that it had no legal standing in other cases) but Ms Blocks attorneys also requested it be published so that the citizens of this state could see what the appellate court judges do behind out backs. Yes it destroyed much of our public records protections but it is being appealed and the Washington State Supreme Court Justices have no choice but to reverse their decision. We do not have a legal justice system, so this may have to go to the 9th circuit courts.
Time frame is also very important, if in doubt ask the agency how long they retain certain records and if all else fails take a look at this link to find out what is mandated by Washington State Law because some of them will lie about that too.
It might save a lot of headache if you just call the agency first and ask them how to make a public records request because they love to tell you that you have done it wrong no matter what their website says.
If you need any further help you can contact me. Obviously I am not an attorney so I can’t give you legal advice but I am becoming a more and more informed citizen and can share my experiences with you