Clinton man sues Langley, mayor for alleged records violations

Former South Whidbey teacher Eric Hood is suing the City of Langley in Island County Superior Court for allegedly violating the Public Records Act.

Hood’s most recent lawsuit is one in a string of legal actions that stems from the loss of his job with the South Whidbey School District in 2010. Hood appears to blame Langley Mayor Fred McCarthy who was schools superintendent at the time of his termination.

In December 2013, Hood asked the city to turn over any records or correspondences that mention himself and “please search particularly for any records of communication involving Fred McCarthy,” his request stated.

In his lawsuit, Hood claims that the city withheld documents from this request.

“Denying access to requested public records without claiming an exemption or basis for withholding the records is a violation of the Public Records Act,” according to the lawsuit.

Hood has indicated in correspondence with McCarthy and the city council that he believes the behavior demonstrates a pattern of deceit in McCarthy’s leadership, both at the school district and in city government. The correspondence was included as exhibits within the lawsuit.

After Hood lost his job in 2010, an arbitrator determined that McCarthy and the school district were justified in not renewing Hood’s teaching contract. Hood then filed a series of open records requests and later sued the district when he didn’t receive the documents fast enough.

A judge agreed with him in a decision earlier this year, and ordered the district to pay Hood a total of $7,150 for the “district’s untimely production of documents.”

McCarthy said Tuesday that Hood’s determination to find fault with the decision is “beyond persistent — it’s obsessed.”

McCarthy said he believes that the school district under his leadership “provided him everything we were legally advised to do,” but that Hood’s repeated requests likely became a “source of frustration” for the district.

McCarthy said Hood’s pattern of filing ongoing requests is a good example of how school districts and city governments can become “beleaguered” with filling some public records requests.

“It’s amazing how much time it takes when you feel like you’re doing the right thing,” McCarthy said. “It consumes tons of people’s time.”

Hood’s lawsuit also takes issue with a “secure confidential file” kept by McCarthy that Hood believes contains the documents he requested. Hood claims in his lawsuit that “the city silently withholds all records” contained in the “confidential” file.

In a December 2013 email sent by McCarthy to the city council, McCarthy said that most of Hood’s requested documents are “in a secure confidential file” that he maintains, but that he would release the documents “within a reasonable timeline in January 2014.”

McCarthy also told City Council members via correspondence to keep in mind that any “communications on this matter may be discoverable in the future.”

Given Hood’s history for requesting documents, McCarthy said Tuesday that keeping a file containing documents concerning Hood is simply a proactive step in dealing with someone litigious. He added that all documents contained in that file have been given to Hood and all future documents will also be available.

Hood declined to comment via email.