King County Superior Court Rules that City Attorneys’ Association is an Agency Subject to Public Records Act.

King County Superior Court Rules that City Attorneys’ Association is an Agency Subject to Public Records Act

The Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys (WSAMA) must comply with the state Public Records Act (PRA), a King County Superior Court ruled recently in a case pursued by the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

King County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Parisien ruled on June 21 that WSAMA, an organization of attorneys who represent Washington cities, is covered by the state transparency law. Under the ruling, the organization must respond to public records requests involving its operations and actions.

WCOG also sought a ruling that another entity, the taxpayer-funded Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), is an agency subject to the PRA. MRSC, which has a governing board consisting of public officials from various agencies, provides resources and advice to local government agencies in Washington.  On July 8, MRSC filed legal papers acknowledging that it is also an agency subject to the PRA, making it unnecessary for Judge Parisien to rule on that issue.

“The people of Washington have a right to know how public resources are spent and what their public servants are doing,” said Toby Nixon, WCOG president. “That also applies when they are spending public money and acting in their role as public employees in groups like WSAMA and MRSC. We can’t let these activities be concealed by doing them in organizations claiming to be private but engaging in public activities with public money.”

The June ruling stems from a 2018 lawsuit filed by WSAMA against WCOG’s attorney, when the city attorneys asked the court to declare WSAMA was not subject to the PRA. The PRA applies to every state and local “agency” in Washington.

Judge Parisien agreed with WCOG that WSAMA is the “functional equivalent of an ‘agency’” and subject to the PRA.  In her memorandum ruling (issued July 9, 2019) Judge Parisien noted that WSAMA had been created by other government officials and agencies, and that only city attorneys could be WSAMA board members. The ruling states, “WSAMA board members regularly use their taxpayer-funded time, offices, computers, email accounts and staff for WSAMA activities, without checking for conflicts of interest.”  Judge Parisien’s ruling recognizes that coordinating bodies of public officials (such as WSAMA) that use taxpayer resources to influence public policy must comply with the PRA like other agencies.