Inmate Tests Washington’s Public Records Law

The Associated Press is reporting on a story out of Washington, where the public records requests of a convicted and imprisoned arsonist are testing the state’s public records laws.

Allan Parmelee has been filing hundreds of public records requests in an attempt to dig up background information on the judges, attorneys and police officers that helped convict him in the firebombing the cars of two attorneys.

Now a prosecutor is asking a judge for permission to ignore Parmelee’s public record requests and to bar him from filing any more. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg wrote a declaration, stating that Parmelee was using the state’s open public records laws to harrass law enforcement officials and other employees in the criminal justice system.

From his prison cell, Parmelee has requested numerous public records, including physical addresses, pictures, payroll records, work schedules, professional backgrounds and birth records — for thousands of Washington State’s police officers and state Department of Corrections employees.

A number of requests since last October request public records about all of Prosecutor Satterberg’s office as well as pictures and personnel records for three assistant prosecutors who worked on his case. Parmelee is also seeking video and other electronic images of two Superior Court judges, including the judge that sentenced him to 24 years in prison.

Parmelee has also asked the state attorney general’s office for public records pertaining to “working hours, schedules … (and) photographs in color” for eight current and former assistant attorneys general.

This bizarre case is testing the limits of Washington state’s Public Records Act. The state has already won previous orders against disclosing certain records from Parmelee. However, in one particular case, Parmelee was awarded $19,000 in fees from the Department of Corrections for delaying his request for certain public records.

Parmelee can be prosecuted if he uses the information obtained from his record requests to harrass or stalk people from prison.

In Washington State, any government agency or state employee can request a court order blocking the release of public records if that disclosure is viewed as not being in the public interest, even though the records may be allowed by law.

It will be interesting to see where this unusual case goes and how it will impact the public records laws not only of Washington State, but of other states as well.

Source: Associated Press