Facts: The petitioner Seattle Times Company requested public records related to the fatal shootings of four police officers from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office pursuant to the Public Records Act (Washington Revised Code §42.56). The alleged accomplices of the shooter subsequently petitioned the Superior Court for Pierce County to enjoin the release of the documents, asserting that the records were not subject to disclosure under §42.56 as their release would impair their right to a fair trial. Respondent Judge Susan Serko’s decision for the court agreed, ruling that the alleged accomplices’ right to a fair trial would be impaired by the records’ release. In response, the Seattle Times Company petitioned the Supreme Court of Washington for a writ of mandamus compelling Serko to order the requesed records’ release.
Question(s): Did Judge Serko’s order enjoining the release of the requested documents properly apply §42.56?
Conclusion: Justice Stephens’ opinion for a unanimous Court granted the writ of mandamus, concluding that Serko’s order had been improper insofar as the exception to §42.56′s disclosure requirements for investigative records does not apply to records related to investigations that have resulted in charges being brought and are therefore no longer ongoing. The Court also held that any order withholding public records on grounds that their release would jeopardize a defendant’s right to a fair trial must be based upon a specific finding that unfairness and/or prejudice will result and must consider alternatives. As Serko’s order was not and had not done so, the Court vacated the order.
Docket No. 84691-0
Petitioner: Seattle Times Company
(Counsel: Bruce Edward Humble Johnson, Eric Stahl, Sarah Kathleen Duran, and William Michael Hanbey)
Respondent: Susan Serko
(Counsel: James Kendrick Pharris)
- Judge's Response to Petition for Writ of Mandamus
- Letter to Clarify - Passed to the Merits
- Petition for Writ of Mandamus - Part 1
- Petition for Writ of Mandamus - Part 2
- Petitioner Hanbey Brief
- Petitioner Seattle Times Brief
- Reply of Petitioner Seattle Times
- Respondent Darcus Allen Brief
- Response Letter - Passed to the Merits
- Seattle Times Reply in Support of Petition
Argument: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 9:00am
[Source: TVW, http://tvw.org]
Audio: Washington Supreme Court
Decided: Thursday, November 18th, 2010
Prevailing Party: Seattle Times Company (Petitioner)
Court: Madsen1 Court (2010-2011)
Note: We post only slip opinion(s) as published at the time of the decision. Please consult Washington Reports printed volumes for the opinion(s) in their final form. Each opinion should appear next to the Justice who authored it.