A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge last week dismissed a lawsuit brought by the city of Portland against the Freedom Foundation, affirming once again the organization has a right under public records laws to contact government employees and inform them of their legal rights regarding union membership and dues payments.
The ruling was the culmination of a months-long showdown between the city and the Freedom Foundation dating back to August of 2017, when the Foundation made a public records request for the names of city employees – no different than hundreds of prior requests for public employee information that the Foundation has made and had successfully fulfilled.
Except this time, city attorneys had their orders.
Specifically, they were contacted by the Laborers’ union and urged to keep the records from seeing the light of day. The union’s real concern stemmed from the fact that the Freedom Foundation had requested the records to assist a city employee in running a grassroots deauthorization campaign that could remove the Laborers’ power to force him and his coworkers to pay dues.
Ignoring the fact that public employee names are clearly a matter of public record, the city granted the union’s wishes and backtracked on its earlier promise to provide the information.
The Freedom Foundation appealed to Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill, who promptly ordered the city to hand over the records.
The city’s response? Defy the DA’s order and sue the Freedom Foundation.
As the only party involved with a legitimate claim, the Freedom Foundation subsequently filed a lawsuit of its own to compel the city to release the records in accordance with the DA’s order.
Which it did, finally handing over the records in early November.
With the records provided, there was no longer any legal dispute and any litigation should have been dropped. Yet in a confusing display of stubbornness – or perhaps sore losing – city of Portland attorneys decided to pursue their lawsuit against the Freedom Foundation with no actual claims, at the taxpayers’ expense.
After a motion for summary judgment was heard on April 18, 2017, Pro Tem Judge Thomas Christ found in favor of the Freedom Foundation and dismissed the city’s lawsuit in its entirety. In his dismissal order, the judge noted the frivolous nature of the city’s case: “The city says that it has produced all of the records covered by the request, and the foundation agrees… You’d think the city would be happy with that outcome but it’s not.”
While the outcome was expected, it was no less satisfying.
“This was a great day not only for the Freedom Foundation, but also for the legal system,” said Freedom Foundation Senior Litigation Counsel Christi Goeller. “The city’s lawsuit was a clear waste of taxpayer money and valuable judicial resources. From day one, it was a frivolous action filed because of the city attorney’s own personal bias against the Freedom Foundation and what it stands for.”
Oregon Director Aaron Withe agreed, saying “The city of Portland knew all along it had no valid argument in this lawsuit yet pursued it anyway, spending valuable time and resources in the process – time and resources that should have been spent pursuing legitimate cases rather than targeting the Freedom Foundation on behalf of union leaders. It’s our intent to file for attorneys’ fees in this matter. This was a frivolous lawsuit that had no merits in the first place.”