The Politics Blog

Appeals Court: state Licensing should be fined for wrongfully withholding records from prison inmate

OlympianJuly 31, 2013 

Retired Judge Marywave Van Deren

COURT OF APPEALS

The state Court of Appeals has ruled that the state Department of Licensing wrongfully withheld records from a prison inmate in 2009 and should pay penalties to the man for its violation of the Public Records Act.

At issue was Derek Gronquist’s request under the Public Records Act for the business license application filed for Maureen’s House Cleaning, a business. Gronquist was held at the prison in Monroe at the time of his July 2009 records request.

In the decision authored by newly retired Judge Marywave Van Deren, the court on Tuesday ordered the case back to Thurston County Superior Court for imposition of unspecified fines of $5 to $100 per day (the penalties in law at the time of the withholding). State law gives an agency five days to respond to a records request and the agency took eight days on this one – not counting the additional months days that its wrongful redaction of information caused details sought by Gronquist to be withheld.

DOL’s response was weak in many ways. As outlined by Judge Van Deren’s ruling, Licensing first failed to respond within five days of the request. Then it blacked out information from documents it did release, even though none of it was legally exempt from disclosure; the agency also failed to cite a legal basis for those redactions, which is a second cause for imposing penalties, the judge said.

Judge Paula Casey, who since retired from the Thurston County court, then failed to let Gronquist file three depositions with the court that he’d taken to support his case. Casey also reviewed the redacted information and decided that DOL had not improperly withheld records. The appellate ruling makes allowance for Gronquist to ask the lower court to have those depositions added to the file.

Since the legal case began, the business-license records in question are now kept by another agency, Department of Revenue.

Licensing also has changed its procedures, according to Licensing spokeswoman Christine Anthony

“We work very hard to balance the public’s access to our records with protecting our licensee’s right to privacy.  We will continue to work with our attorneys to resolve this case," Anthony said in a written response to a query from The Olympian. "Since this case was filed, we have centralized our public disclosure staff and processes to ensure experts are managing all public disclosure requests.”

Although those changes were made after Gronquist’s lawsuit, they were not spurred by it. Anthony said the changes were part of “a larger reorganization of agency to better serve the public and increase efficiency.’’ 

The appellate court is retaining jurisdiction on one element of the case  in order to to decide at a future date how much the state must pay for the inmate’s court costs. Also signing the decision were Division II Judges Lisa Worswick and Christine Quinn-Brintnall

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