All courts and offices in the state’s judicial branch would be subject to the same open records laws as the rest of Washington government, under legislation scheduled to be heard Friday by the Senate State Government & Elections Committee.
Until 2018, when the state Supreme Court ruled that state lawmakers’ offices were subject to the state’s Public Records Act, only one of the three branches of state government—the Executive—considered itself subject to the act. Senate Bill 5550, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), would hold the Judiciary similarly subject to the act’s public disclosure requirements.
“Like many of my colleagues, I had long believed that the initiative creating the Public Records Act was not intended to cover the Legislature,” Van De Wege said. “Since the courts have ruled that in fact the public’s intent is for the act to apply to all state institutions, it follows that that intent should be honored with full compliance.”
After the passage of the initiative in 1972, the Legislature and the Judiciary had considered their activities outside the scope of the act. Several legal challenges ensued over the years, and in 2018 a county judge ruled in favor of a suit by media outlets that the definition of public records included legislative records and communications.
Van De Wege’s bill specifies that the definition similarly applies to records and communications of state courts and offices within the judicial branch. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday.