Susan Owens, author of Federal Way v. Koenig
City of Federal Way v. Koenig was decided by the Washington State Supreme Court on October 15, 2009.
This case established an exemption from public records requests for all documents within the judicial branch of government, including administrative documents and inter-branch communications.
Ruling of the Court
In its ruling, the court holds that Washington's Public Disclosure Act does not apply to state judicial records.
The 7-2 decision was written by Susan Owens.
The majority opinion says in part:
- "We previously considered this issue in Nast v. Michels, 107 Wn.2d 300, 730 P.2d 54 (1986) where we held that the PRA does not apply to court case files because the judiciary is not included in the PRA's definition of "agency." Id. at 305-06. We conclude that Nast continues to stand for the principle that the PRA does not apply to the judiciary and that the appellant has not demonstrated a compelling reason to overturn Nast. Under the doctrine of stare decisis, we will overturn precedent only if it is incorrect and harmful and appellant has failed to demonstrate either. Thus, this court affirms the trial court and holds that the PRA does not apply to the judiciary."
The Korsmo concurrence
In his concurrence, Korsmo says he disagrees with the conclusion the court reached in 1986 in Nast v. Michels but goes along with the majority because of stare decisis, writing, "only the Legislature should overturn the longstanding constructon of a statute."
The Stephens dissent
Debra Stephens, in her dissent, says that Nast did not speak to the issue of whether courts are an agency as a matter of law and that the state's Public Records Act should be interpreted liberally.
- "In the end, I believe we do a disservice to interpret the PRA, a broad mandate for open government, to exempt entirely the judicial branch of government. Nast is not stare decisis on this question, and courts plainly meet the statutory definition of "agency" in RCW 42.56.010. It seems to me the PRA speaks for itself: The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know."
- ↑ The Olympian, "State Supreme Court: judiciary's documents are not public records," October 15, 2009