Pierce County’s prosecutor, Mark Lindquist, does not believe the public should have access to public records on his personal cell phone. So much so, he has been willing to defend his position via a lengthy legal dispute, the costs ($282,490) of which have been footed by Pierce County taxpayers.
Last week, the state Supreme Court heard Lindquist’s case. The court’s decision will ultimately “set an important precedent regarding the ability of public officials to conceal public records by using private devices.”
The controversy all started when Lindquist received a records request for “text messages sent and received on his personal cell phone regarding a county investigation.” He responded to the request by providing some texts, but redacting others. According to Lindquist, the redacted texts are “personal.”
The deputy seeking Lindquist’s records didn’t buy it. She believes the redacted records will show Lindquist retaliated against her for political reasons.
Former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna points out that Lindquist “fully agrees that if the text messages in question had been made on his government-issued phone rather than his personal phone, they would be public records and have to be turned over.” However, the reason Lindquist believes he does not have to reveal the records in question is that “he used his personal phone to create it, even though it was regarding government business.” Via Smarter Government Washington,
“Lindquist’s argument boils down to this: the Public Records Act doesn’t cover personal phones, the Legislature can fix that if they want to, but that change won’t ever apply to his case…
“Lindquist’s interpretation of the Public Records Act is clearly against the public interest, and the Supreme Court may decide to reject it. Taxpayers will not be well served if the only thing public officials need to do to avoid scrutiny is use a personal cell phone instead of a government cell phone.”
Lindquist is fully aware that if the court sides with him, the state Legislature will “fix the situation and clarify that all government work product, regardless of the type of device used, is public information and should be subject to disclosure.” However, that would not apply to Lindquist, as it would be an after-the-fact change.
Here’s hoping, for the sake of government transparency, the court does not side with Lindquist.