Yousoufian v. Office of Ron Sims

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Yousoufianvs.Office of Ron Sims
Number: No. 57112-5-I
Year: 2009
State: Washington
Court: Washington State Supreme Court
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Yousoufian v. Office of Ron Sims is a January 15, 2009 6-3 decision of the Washington State Supreme Court based on the Washington Public Records Act.

The state's high court ruled that a $124,000 fine paid by King County for what their decision referred to as "blatant violations of the state Public Records Act" wasn't enough of a fine. They sent the case back to Superior Court with a recommendation to increase the penalty.

The plaintiff in the case, Armen Yousoufian, sued the county in 1997 after it delayed the release of documents pertaining to the public financing of Qwest Field (Seahawks Stadium). In response to the ruling, he said the court's justices, have "at long, long last, given us a strong ruling in favor of public disclosure with some real teeth in it."[1]

Five of the court's nine justices found King County's actions so egregious as to warrant a fine at the "high end" of the act's penalty range. The decision also used the phrase "grossly negligent noncompliance with the Public Records Act" to refer to the conduct of the county during the events in question.


Background

  • In 1997, Yousoufian asked the office of County Executive Ron Sims for copies of studies pertaining to the impact of the proposed $300 million Seahawks stadium. County residents were about to vote on a referendum to pay for Qwest Field.
  • King County delayed release of the information for nearly four years, denying Yousoufian the information before the vote.
  • In its 2009 opinion, written by Richard Sanders, the court says, ""The unchallenged findings of fact demonstrate King County repeatedly deceived and misinformed Yousoufian for years."

Role of Ron Sims

The leader of King County during the time that the events in question transpired was Ron Sims, who on February 2, 2009 was nominated to serve as deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.[2]

County files appeal

On April 1, 2009, King County asked the state Supreme Court to re-hear the case. The basis for their request is that claim that justice Richard Sanders, who wrote the landmark decision, was prejudiced in his opinion about the case because at the same time he wrote the ruling, Sanders had a public-records lawsuit pending in Thurston County. King County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Wright said, "A justice may not define the scope of rights under state law while simultaneously seeking to personally benefit from that law in other litigation."[3]

The county is asking the high court to re-hear the case, substituting a temporary justice in the place of Sanders. Since six justices on the nine-justice court agreed with Sanders, it isn't clear that substituting a replacement justice for Sanders on the court would change the outcome.[3]

Sanders' response

Sanders denies wrongdoing. He consulted with the court's ethics attorney before hearing Yousoufian. Sanders also says that he will not financially benefit from any additional fines imposed in the Thurston case, so that he does not have a financial conflict-of-interest.

Seattle lawyer Thomas Fitzpatrick, a member of a committee that reviews the canons of the state's Code of Judicial Conduct, said Sanders does not have the type of financial interest in the Yousofian case that would have constrained him for hearing it. "He's not a party or related to a party in the case. To me, this is the kind of situation where [a judge] may want to think long and hard about it. But I don't think it's a violation of the canons."[3]


See also

External links

References

  1. Seattle Times, "King County to face bigger fine for delaying release of documents about Qwest Field financing," January 16, 2009
  2. Seattle Times, "Ron Sims leaves legacy of change as he heads for HUD," February 3, 2009
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Seattle Times, "King County asks state high court to void records ruling," April 2, 2009