Public Officials Texts on Private Phones Are Public Record Says State of Washington

September 9, 2015 | In one area of public policy where the law is quickly having to deal with technological change - text messaging...


September 9, 2015 |

In one area of public policy where the law is quickly having to deal with technological change - text messaging - the State of Washington Supreme Court ruled in favor of greater public access and open government last week.

In a unanimous decision issued on August 27, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that text messages created on a private phone are a matter of public record if they involve public business. The case, Nissen v. Pierce County, pitted Pierce County Deputy Sheriff Glenda Nissen against Pierce County District Attorney Mark Lindquist.

In their 9-0 decision, the court concluded "Records that an agency employee prepares, owns, uses, or retains on a private cell phone within the scope of employment can be "public records" of the agency under RCW 42.56.010(3). Nissen's complaint thus sufficiently alleges that at least some of the text messages at issue may be public records subject to disclosure."

The decisions was lauded by open government groups such as the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) who filed an animus brief  in the case. 

“I'm happy that, in the Nissen v. Pierce County decision announced today, the Washington State Supreme Court has Unanimously affirmed that when public employees use their private cellphones for public business, the records created are indeed public records that must be disclosed under the Public Records Act," Toby Nixon of WCOG said.  

Pierce County spent in excess of $300,000 in outside counsel fees defending Lindquist who resisted disclosure of the text messages.  




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4 comments

Anonymous said...

The ruling says public employees. If Pierce County District Attorney Mark Lindquist is also an elected official, this could open the door for California as well. A similar case will be before the CA Supreme Court very soon.

We have Elk Grove City Council members who use their private email addresses for public business, even publishing that address in lieu of their official city email address. They also receive taxpayer stipends for their personal cell phones.

In essence, the Elk Grove City Council could be considered “employees,” as they voted themselves the same benefits as full time city employees – very nice perks on top of their salaries.

Interesting to note that none of the Elk Grove City Council members have come forward to say that they would disclose all city business emails sent from their personal email accounts. Maybe a Court order will be in order if the ruling is the same in California.

Begs the question again and again: What are these council members hiding?

So much for “honesty, integrity, accountability and morality.” BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!

Anonymous said...

That wouldn't apply to us...we operate under Elk Grove Coalition for Closed Government (EGCCG). In other words, Need to Know.

What we need are some real life Grandmas at the dias, they don't take crap from anyone and they have eyes in the back of their heads.

Warren Buffett said...

Nothing beats a handshake with a wad of crumpled $100 bills inside!

Anonymous said...

You'll have to prior my electronics from my cold dead hands!

Elk Grove Coalition you Can't mAke me give it uP (EGCCAP) Spokesperson
9/9/2015.

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