The city of Langley has prevailed in a lawsuit brought by Clinton resident Eric Hood over alleged breaches of the state’s Public Records Act.
Langley Mayor Tim Callison said the city received a notification on July 11 that it was successful in a motion for summary judgment and dismissal of Hood’s lawsuit. Hood claimed the city violated the state’s Public Records Act (PRA) “by failing to produce personal journals from its former mayor that had been destroyed prior to his request, failing to provide him access to records without making a claim of exemption and not providing the plaintiff with emails directly relating to him “pursuant to his modified request,” according to court documents.
Island County Superior Court Judge Vicki Churchill issues the judgment.
On Jan. 5 2016, Hood sought any records kept or created by Fred McCarthy, the former mayor of Langley, and specifically records “that are or were maintained” in a locked cabinet in McCarthy’s office as well as “pocket notebooks” used by McCarthy. Another party had asked for McCarthy’s notebooks prior to Hood’s request, and after receiving advice from the city attorney that his personal notebooks were not considered public records but “personal in nature,” McCarthy destroyed them. The court found McCarthy’s notebooks were not public records under RCW 42.56.010(3).
Because the records did not exist when Hood made his request, the city could not provide the personal journals to Hood, according to the ruling. Hood claimed there were “genuinely disputed material facts” as to whether the records were destroyed and cited inconsistencies in the “sent” time signatures of emails in declarations provided by McCarthy and City Clerk Debbie Mahler.
The court ruled that time inconsistencies are “not material,” and that the undisputed fact is that McCarthy destroyed his personal journals no later than Dec. 17, 2015 and “long before” Hood’s public records request on Jan. 5, 2016.
Hood also argued that the city negligently provided him access to private records of third parties, but there is no cause of action in the Public Records Act if a public agency acted in good faith in attempting to comply with the request, the ruling said.
Finally, the court found the city was “not perfect” but “adequate” in its search for electronic files referencing Hood’s name or his dealings with the city. The ruling also said Hood was not entitled to sift through McCarthy’s city laptop per his request to search for the documents himself because he did not identify the document in question “with sufficient clarity.”
Hood maintains the evidence shows the city of Langley “carefully concealed public records while carelessly disclosing private information about dozens of persons, including police officers, minors, and city job applicants.
“Since the court relied almost exclusively upon the self serving and contradictory declarations of city officials, including former Mayor McCarthy, I have formally asked the court to reconsider its ruling,” Hood wrote in an email Friday afternoon.