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$650,000 public records award tossed

Fri., Sept. 13, 2013

SEATTLE – A state appeals court overruled a public records award of nearly $650,000 made to an abuse victim, believed to be the largest against a Washington state agency.

The Tuesday ruling by the state Court of Appeals found that the state’s public records law does not apply to some of the juvenile records requested by Amber Wright in 2007. The three-judge panel also found Wright was not clear enough in her request for other documents she sought from the agency while preparing to sue the state for leaving her in the care of her abusive father.

Wright’s attorneys filed two lawsuits against the agency. One, related to the abuse, was settled for $2.85 million. The other, accusing officials of withholding records, led to the $650,000 awarded by Pierce County Judge Frederick Fleming, who found in 2011 that DSHS officials withheld four documents: the audio recording and a transcript of an interview Wright had done with police about the abuse, agency investigation protocols and a training manual for prospective and adoptive parents.

The appeals court, however, ruled that the recording and transcript were juvenile records that were thus not subject to the Public Records Act, which Wright had used to make her request. The judges also said her request did not specify with “reasonable clarity” that she wanted the protocols and manual included with information about her own situation.

Wright’s lawyer, David Moody, called the appellate decision “odd in light of the clear opinions expressed by the trial court.”

“Even children are entitled to public records,” he said. Moody said an appeal will be filed to the state Supreme Court in the case.


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