ABA Journal by Lorelei Laird
Journal Publication March 2018
In 2015, a government official in Snohomish County, Washington, received an email from a “Mr. Public Requestor,” seeking all public records of any kind from all county-owned smartphones.
Despite the breadth of this extraordinary request, the anonymity of the person who sent it, and its lack of an obvious purpose, the county couldn’t turn it away. Under Washington’s Public Records Act, none of those factors invalidates such a request. Gage Andrews, then the county’s public records officer, estimated it would take 12,000 hours to download and make the necessary redactions.
But 935 hours into fulfilling that request, the requester canceled without explanation. Because the law doesn’t permit Snohomish County to charge for lost staff time, it was out about $30,000.
Such stories have played out all across Washington in the past decade. According to a 2016 report from the state auditor’s office, the cost of filling public records requests went up 70 percent between 2011 and mid-2015, driven by increases in the number and complexity of requests. They came from companies, nonprofits, law firms, the media and individuals. That’s why the state legislature passed two reform bills last year.
“We just hope that that is at least a deterrent to some of these—I call them vexatious, vindictive requesters,” says state Rep. Terry Nealey, a Republican from eastern Washington who sponsored one of the bills. “That was really the goal of mine all along—was to try to prevent them from gumming up the works.” [READ MORE]