Writings and observations

A cottage industry that needn’t be

The talk is of a man who’s filed lawsuit after lawsuit and, some of his critics say, is making – with his attorneys – a cottage industry out of it. He’s certainly been awarded substantial sums of money. All of which in these days of frivolous lawsuits reasonably sounds suspicious, except for two things:

First, he’s been winning.

Second, his lawsuits have been performing a public service.

The man is David Koenig, a construction worker from Federal Way. As a story in the Tacoma News Tribune outlines today, it all started about a decade ago when a family member was sexually assaulted, and he asked the city of Des Moines for public records – and they were clearly public – related to that incident. He was denied. (There was, we should note, an issue here about whether the form of his request in effect identified the otherwise unnamed victim in a sexual assault.) He took his case to the Washington Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor, and ordered Des Moines to pay his (and his lawyers) $83,000.

Koenig has been after public records ever since. The small town of Buckley paid him $22,700 in another law enforcement records case; the larger city of Tukwila paid $27,000; and now still larger Lakewood in Pierce County has been dinged $40,000 – all for refusing to turn over public records. (Keonig says he’s using the part of his intake that doesn’t go to attorneys to pursue additional public records cases.)

A number of local government officials, naturally, are up in arms, and one can imagine seminars at local government association meetings about how to avoid similar judgments. We can cut to that chase right here: Unless you have a clear-cut no-question exemption in state or federal law and can point to it immediately, turn over the damn records.

Sooner or later, the taxpayers of Lakewood, Des Moines, Buckley, Tukwila and other jurisdictions likely will get the point. When they do, the questions they put to their officials may be more pointed than Koenig’s.

Share on Facebook