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Issaquah Law Group: Experienced Counsel; Client Focus

PHILOSOPHY: Formed in 2014, Issaquah Law Group is a law firm with one focus: providing businesses and insurers with high quality legal representation with the responsiveness of a smaller firm. ILG was founded on the principle that strong client relationships are the key to successful legal representation and strong relationships are built upon clear and consistent communication. 

LITIGATION: We work closely with our clients to fully and accurately understand their goals, work collaboratively to formulate specific legal strategies, and execute the agreed plan of action utilizing methods most likely to result in the efficient and effective resolution of the matter. ILG attorneys have a broad base of litigation experience to draw on in all Federal and State courts from on-the-ground investigations to Supreme Court appeals in the areas of personal injury and wrongful death, product liability, commercial general liability, labor & employment, construction litigation, and catastrophic losses due to fire and explosion.

BUSINESS LAW: Rarely is the path from point A to point B a straight line, so our role in a business law practice is to find alternatives, devise workable strategies, and keep your business ideas, goals and objectives moving toward realization. ILG’s business attorneys help clients achieve their goals with respect to business formation, intellectual property, labor and employment, CAN-SPAM, copyright and trademark

COMMUNITY: In addition, the Lawyers at Issaquah Law Group remain active in the legal and civic community. A core commitment of our Issaquah Attorneys is community service. Our attorneys' civic involvement includes the King County Civil Rights Commission; the City of Issaquah Planning Policy Commission; the Northwest Screenwriters Guild, service as a pro tem judge. We live and work in the Pacific Northwest, and we aim to make it a better place.

In addition, through The Amateur Law Professor Blog and LinkedIn postings, we share pertinent opinions and decisions of the Washington State Supreme Court, as well as the pertinent opinions and decisions of the Washington State Courts of Appeal so that our clients can be as update to date on cutting legal issues as we are.

WA Supreme Court: Non-Agencies Under ICA May Still Be Agencies for PRA Purposes

Worthington v. WestNET

What is WestNET? I’m glad you asked. Its the West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team. Undoubtedly I have had friends on this. Here, a person sued WestNET looking for documents. The trial court dismissed the suit, holding that the Plaintiff had to request the documents from the individual agencies that were part of WestNET, and that WestNET wasn’t an entity that could be sued. 

Here, the Agreement was an interlocal agreement. Lots of departments have them. You see it a lot in fire departments, like Eastside Fire and Rescue, which is really a consortium of various fire districts. Here, their agreement stated “[t]he parties do not intend to create through, this Agreement [sic], a separate legal entity subject to suit."

Well Worthington’s home was raided, and he wanted to know why. He put forth the request to WestNet, and WestNET didn’t respond. Kitsap County did respond with some documents, but never explained that WestNET wasn’t an entity as far as they were concerned. Worthington brought suit, and the Kitsap County prosecutor responded and asked the court to dismiss the case (that part was provided for in their agreement). The court did just that.

So this all turns on who is a state agency under the public records act. The statute is very liberal in construction, meaning you essentially try to fit it into one of the definitions. It includes the term “or other local public agency,” which is a catch all. The question under the PRA is whether it is the functional equivalent of a governmental entity. This requires some fact finding on what the agency does, which may or may not be contained solely in the agreement. 

For example, it is conceivable that despite its own terms, WestNET operates independently, maintains its own records, and effectively exists as a separate government agency such that it should be subject to the broad scope of the PRA and its provisions. The trial court could have considered other relevant factors that were not apparent from the terms in the Agreement: Does WestNET maintain a separate physical office? Where are the task force records kept? Does WestNET have a designated custodian of the records? If WestNET is not subject to the PRA, how would interested individuals request documents and to what extent would an individual have to engage in a document search among the 10 different municipalities and agencies? Essentially, the inquiry should focus on whether an interested individual could still adequately exercise his or her rights under the PRA if record requests and suits cannot be brought against W estNET directly. Without discovery, none of these questions can be answered.

So now we have a conflict of sorts between the interlocal statute, which says the agencies can say the interlocal is not an agency, and the PRA, which uses a different test based on functionality. The PRA says its provisions trump regarding PRA obligations. Thus, if you’re not an agency for one purpose, if it conflicts with the PRA, you can still be an agency for PRA purposes. The ICA also includes a provision that you can’t use the ICA non-agency status to skirt performance of obligations. Forcing Worthington to go to ten different agencies to collect WestNET documents may be too cumbersome and frustrate the purposes of the PRA.

So back to the trial court we go for some discovery as to the true nature of WestNET’s operations and whether it is a governmental entity for purposes of the PRA.

Issaquah Legal Services Attorneys are skilled in using the Public Records Act to move you case forward and can help you in parsing through the complexities of the PRA if you need to respond to a request.

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