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Secretary Reed tapped for open-government honor ?>

Secretary Reed tapped for open-government honor

Secretary of State Sam Reed, who has made government transparency and access to public records a signature issue during his three terms, has been ann0unced as the 2011 winner of the James Madison Award of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

The award honors Reed’s “appreciation for, and dedication to, the cause of open government since taking office,” including advocacy of accessible and accountable government, preserving and displaying public records, battling successfully in the Supreme Court to defend the public’s right to initiative signatures,  and creating the Digital Archives in Cheney, serving customers and voters online, and saving the State Library.

WCOG President Toby Nixon said:

“Sam Reed has been a consistently strong and outspoken proponent of preservation of and access to public records, including being a champion of establishing the first state-level Digital Archives for public records in the country. We can only hope that our next Secretary of State continues Reed’s leadership in defending and extending the public’s right to know.”

Reed, who recently announced that he will not seek a fourth term next year, will receive the award at a breakfast ceremony Sept. 23 in Seattle. The award has been presented annually since 2004 to honor the works of those who bring openness, transparency and accountability to government institutions in the Evergreen State.

R-71 petition challenge heading back to court ?>

R-71 petition challenge heading back to court

Protect Marriage Washington, gay-marriage opponents who forced a public vote on the state’s new domestic partnership law last November, are heading back to court to try to ban public release of the 138,000 names of people who signed Referendum 71 petitions.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a case called Doe v. Reed, ruled 8-1 on June 24 that, as a general matter, release of petitions does not violate voters’ constitutional rights. But the court also left open the possibility of narrower challenges to release of specific measures, such as R-71.

As expected, that challenge is heading back to a Tacoma jurist, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle, who originally blocked release of the petition sheets last fall, citing constitutional grounds. He was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, but now the “as-applied” challenge will commence.

State Elections Director Nick Handy says word from Attorney General Rob McKenna is that Judge Settle has set a conference for Aug. 11 to discuss how to proceed with the case.  The judge may decide to issue a ban on disclosure of the petitions until the case is heard and decided, along with scheduling of motions and a hearing on the merits, Handy said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Sam Reed and McKenna will continue to advocate for release of the signatures under terms of the voter-approved Public Records Act.  The referendum process is  “direct democracy,” citizen legislating, and Washington voters want the process to be open and transparent, not secret, Reed said.  The other side, represented by Indiana activist attorney James Bopp Jr., fears that disclosure would lead to harassment or intimidation of signers. (more…)

R-71 records: McKenna, Reed head to Supreme Court ?>

R-71 records: McKenna, Reed head to Supreme Court

Attorney General Rob McKenna and Secretary of State Sam Reed hope to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the state’s strong voter-approved Public Records Act and the policy of allowing release of initiative and referendum petitions, as most states do.

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IMG_8379Reed, the state’s chief elections officer, is the respondent in the closely watched Doe v. Reed lawsuit that could affect how petitions are handled across America.  He and McKenna met with the press on Monday to describe the landmark nature of the case, and to express optimism that the state will prevail.  Oral arguments are on Wednesday of next week.  McKenna will spend this next week in D.C. preparing, and will be joined by Reed for the hearing.

A quick recap: foes of a newly passed “everything but marriage” law expanding domestic partner benefits mounted Referendum 71 to place the issue on last November’s statewide ballot. When some supporters of the new law announced plans to request copies of the R-71 petition sheets, Protect Marriage Washington secured a federal court order blocking the public (more…)

R-71 petitions: Supreme Court sets April hearing ?>

R-71 petitions: Supreme Court sets April hearing

The U.S. Supreme Court has set an April 28 hearing date for a nationally watched public records-elections case arising from Washington’s practice of allow public release of initiative and referendum petitions under terms of the state’s voter-approved Public Records Act.

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The high court last month agreed to hear an appeal brought by opponents of Washington’s new “everything but marriage” domestic partnership law.  Now the court has scheduled the oral arguments for Wednesday morning, April 28, the last case currently docketed for this current term.

Protect Marriage Washington, which mounted Referendum 71 last fall in an attempt to halt the new domestic partnership measure that passed the 2009 Legislature, won a district court ban on disclosure of R-71 petitions last September.  But the challengers then lost in the 9th U.S.  Circuit Court of Appeals.  The appeals bench said the Secretary of State’s policy of releasing petitions as a matter of public record did not violate the First Amendment rights of initiative and referendum backers. (more…)

Court to decide Jan. 15 whether to take R-71 case ?>

Court to decide Jan. 15 whether to take R-71 case

The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced that it will decide on January 15, 2010, whether to accept or reject the judgeappeal of last fall’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that upheld Washington State’s practice of treating ballot measure petitions as releasable public records.

The high court will meet on the 15th to review several cases, voting on each whether to accept or reject. The court likely will announce later that day or the following Monday if it will take the R-71 petition case. If the court declines to take the case, the 9th Circuit Court’s decision will stand. If the court accepts the case, it will likely be argued in April, with a decision to be handed down by the end of June. There also is a state court injunction entered by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks that also prevents the release of the R-71 petitions. The case in front of Judge Hicks is stayed pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s action. (more…)

WA to high court: Don’t take R-71 petition case ?>

WA to high court: Don’t take R-71 petition case

The Washington Attorney General is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to turn aside a request to block the state from releasing Referendum 71 petitions.

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On Jan. 8, the high court is expected to consider a request from R-71 opponents to hear their challenge of an appeals court decision that upheld the state’s practice of treating petitions as releasable public records.  We should know shortly thereafter whether the court will take the case.  The earliest it could get on the calendar probably is late April. The state Elections Division, backed  by the Attorney General, says the state’s voter-approved Public Records Act requires release of all public documents for which there is no exemption. The Legislature has never exempted petitions. (more…)

R-71 Part Deux: Will high court take up disclosure ban? ?>

R-71 Part Deux: Will high court take up disclosure ban?

The continuing court battle by foes of Referendum 71 to shield their petitions from public view stepped up a notch Friday with filing of papers formally outlining the reasons why they want the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case and uphold a disclosure ban.

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A 30-second recap: In September, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma agreed to Protect Marriage Washington’s request to block the Secretary of State from the scheduled release of over 9,000 R-71  petition sheets in response to public records requests.  In October, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Settle and said the state could release the records. A state judge, acting in a parallel case brought by initiative activist Tim Eyman, froze release of all petitions while litigation was afoot.

Protect Marriage Washington asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put the 9th Circuit decision on hold while a request for a high court review was drafted. The justices said fine.  On Friday, the official paperwork was filed with all of their reasoning spelled out. (more…)

‘Looming over gay-rights vote’: Disclosure debate ?>

‘Looming over gay-rights vote’: Disclosure debate

r71-main2Washington’s hot ballot measure dealing with domestic partnerships, Referendum 71, is getting national media attention, along with Maine, which is voting on actual gay marriage.  But in Washington, the debate is sometimes eclipsed by a legal and public relations war over whether the R-71 petitions should be released as a public record, or kept confidential.

The New York Times’ William Yardley visited this disclosure battle in a Sunday newspaper piece ,calling the dispute a collision of “privacy, free speech and elections in the Internet age.”  By permission, the photo was from your own From Our Corner blog.

Secretary of State Sam Reed has followed a legal strategy of releasing initiative and referendum petitions under the mandate of the voter-approved Public Records Act, which has no exemption for the petition sheets.  Further, he views  petition-signing as a public act of citizen-legislating, where transparency is required, not a private act like voting.  The state, however, is under both federal and state court order to keep the petitions under wraps while litigation is under way, brought by initiative activist Tim Eyman and foes of same-sex marriage. (more…)

High court continues ban on releasing R-71 petitions ?>

High court continues ban on releasing R-71 petitions

r71latestThe U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to continue blocking, at least temporarily, Washington State from releasing Referendum 71 petitions under the state’s Public Records Act.

The high court, ruling in a request by Justice Anthony Kennedy, agreed to keep in place Kennedy’s order that bans release of the documents while appeals are being sought. The court thus suspends the ruling last Thursday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that the R-71 documents are releasable.  That means that, at least for now, the restraining order imposed on the Secretary of State last month by U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle will remain in place while appeals are pursued.

The high court order said if it decides not to hear the appeal from Project Marriage Washington, the ban will “terminate automatically” and the 9th Circuit ruling will stand, meaning the petitions could be released then. If the Supreme Court takes the case, then the stay will remain in effect until the justices render a decisi0n. (more…)

Releasing petitions: What’s the deal? ?>

Releasing petitions: What’s the deal?

questions1Katie Blinn, assistant state elections director, wraps up in a new narrative the background history on why the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office, treats initiative and referendum petitions as releasable public records.

Blinn, an attorney and former legislative committee counsel, traces the litigation in state and federal court and recounts the history of petition sheets that have been released in prior years – and those that await the green light from the courts.