DSHS Unlawfully Delays Disclosure Of Public Records To Aid Union—Again

DSHS Unlawfully Delays Disclosure Of Public Records To Aid Union—Again

DSHS Unlawfully Delays Disclosure Of Public Records To Aid Union—Again

Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services is, once again, violating the law by favoring the unions.

The state has a robust Public Records Act for the purpose of government transparency and accountability, and public agencies are supposed to further this purpose by assisting records requestors in the fullest way possible with timely productions of records.

Unless the request comes from the Freedom Foundation, that is.

In the Freedom Foundation’s case, DSHS has repeatedly delayed, delayed and delayed the release of public records—for the sole purpose of allowing unions extra time to obtain court orders preventing the records’ release.

This violates the letter, spirit and purpose of Washington’s Public Records Act. DSHS’s conduct is flatly illegal.

And DSHS knows it, too. Last winter, the Freedom Foundation successfully sued DSHS for wrongfully delaying the release of public records after conceding it was doing so to give the unions time to file yet another meritless objection. Instead of providing any counterarguments, DSHS merely agreed that it had violated the law and paid $18,000 in fines, fees and costs.

This is $18,000 of taxpayers’ money that could easily have been saved and directed to more worthy causes, like DSHS’s mission of saving and protecting the health and security of Washington residents.

Now, DSHS is at it again. In April 2017, the Freedom Foundation requested the schedules of homecare aides’ contracting appointments run by DSHS. The Freedom Foundation intends to use these schedules to inform homecare workers of their constitutional right to avoid payment of union dues during these appointments.

In response, DSHS informed the Freedom Foundation that it would take 30 business days to produce the schedules.

The thing is, it takes far less than 30 business days for DSHS to run queries and produce records of contracting schedules. This is proven by the fact that DSHS sent a letter to the unions (while simultaneously telling the Freedom Foundation that it would take 30 business days) in which DSHS provided the union with strategic advice about how to obtain a court order preventing the release of the records.

DSHS also gave the unions two weeks to do so. Does this sound like the Freedom Foundation was given the “fullest” and “timeliest” assistance, which DSHS is required by law to do?

Not by a long shot.

DSHS built an unlawful delay into what it calls a “reasonable time” for records production. DSHS’s maneuvering is not “reasonable” and is not lawful.

Consequently, the Freedom Foundation filed a lawsuit against DSHS and is currently in the midst of litigation.

Maybe this litigation will finally get the agency’s attention and remind those who work that their allegiance is to the law, not the union.

Litigation Counsel
Stephanie Olson serves as the Foundation’s Litigation Counsel. Stephanie graduated from the University of Washington School of Law with Honors, where she served as the Symposium Editor for the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy and the Articles Editor for the Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts. She also externed at the Western District of Washington United States District Court, competed on UW’s national American Association of Justice Mock Trial Team, and served as President for the Federalist Society UW Student Chapter. Stephanie gained litigation experience while working at UW’s Innocence Project Clinic, the Washington State Attorney General’s Criminal Litigation Unit, and the Washington Appellate Project. She also became a Blackstone Fellow through the Alliance Defending Freedom Blackstone Fellowship. Additionally, Stephanie is a published author in the Ephemeris Journal of Philosophy, the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section blog, and the University of Washington’s Law, Technology & Arts Blog. Prior to law school, Stephanie worked as a paralegal at large firms in downtown Seattle and volunteered as a local and national leader for anti-human trafficking campaigns. Through her experiences working in Washington’s public, private and non-profit legal sectors, Stephanie is uniquely qualified for fighting for freedom in the Pacific Northwest. When not litigating, Stephanie loves connecting with her hometown roots. She grew up in Woodinville, Washington and enjoys cheering for the Seahawks, Sounders and Dawgs, volunteering with youth soccer teams, catching concerts at the Gorge, and grabbing friends to hike one of the many numerous and scenic hiking trails scattered throughout the state. Stephanie obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations from Wheaton College, where she first became passionate about fighting for freedom in the context of international human rights. The time also further deepened her love for the mountainous northwest region, where she now resides.