Politics & Government

DSHS to pay $525,001 to settle records lawsuit

The state Department of Social and Health Services is paying $525,001 to settle a public-records lawsuit brought by former foster children abused by their state-licensed foster parents.

Lawyers David Moody and Marty McLean had sued to obtain state records in connection with a claim for $45 million in damages that they filed, alleging the state was liable for harm to the girls, two of whom are now adults. Their ex-foster father Enrique Fabregas was convicted two years ago of sex charges related to abuse of the children, according to The Seattle Times.

“Seeking answers as to why DSHS licensed a career criminal to be a foster parent and continually ignored numerous warnings of abuse, these young women each made a formal request for their public records,” Moody’s law firm stated in a news release Thursday. “DSHS illegally refused to provide a complete response.”

DSHS spokesman Steve Williams said the dispute was over 203 records that were disclosed late. He said the agency turned over more than 5,300 records that included more than 10,000 pages of information and that a court found the disclosures were complete by July 1, 2008.

But a King County judge ruled in June and October that the agency violated the Public Records Act, and a trial was scheduled to decide penalties, according to Moody’s office.

Williams acknowledged that the agency committed errors but could not say what the mistakes were or who made them.

“DSHS did not intentionally withhold any records,” he said. Quoting from agency talking points, he said: “Mistakes were made due to technical errors, confusion created in part by the staggered way in which the requester presented authorizations allowing release of his clients’ confidential information, and some delays in finding a few of the thousands of requested records.’’

DSHS is changing how it handles public-records requests. It plans to train staff members in records retention and management and is developing tools to aid in the search for and production of electronic records, Williams said. The agency also plans to have a centralized public-records staff, but it has not decided whether to have central offices for each division in the 18,700-employee agency or one for the entire agency.

The agency will pay its penalty out of operating funds, giving $175,000 each to Estera Tamas and Ruth Tamas and $175,001 to guardians for a disabled child named Monica, the settlement agreement says.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688