Journalist sues Seattle over secrecy tactics regarding drug use prosecution bill
(The Center Square) – The City of Seattle is facing a lawsuit over its withholding of public information about communications with a city council member who publicly supported a high-profile measure to allow prosecution of illegal drug use before voting against it.
The city released some of the information shortly after the August primary and then delayed further disclosure until after the November election.
The Citizen Action Defense Fund filed suit against the city Friday in King County Superior Court over its refusal to release the records to local journalist Brandi Kruse of unDivided Media.
The council brought to a vote in June a proposal from City Attorney Ann Davison that would have allowed her office to prosecute drug possession and public drug use for the first time in the city's history. Other cities had approved such measures, referring to them as "Blake fix" bills. In State v. Blake, the Washington Supreme Court in 2021 invalidated the state's felony drug possession laws.
Councilman Andrew Lewis had voiced his support for the measure in the hours leading up to the vote but shocked everyone by changing his mind and giving opponents the deciding vote to kill the bill.
Kruse filed a public records request seeking information about who contacted Lewis in the hours before and after the vote. City officials said Kruse would get the records on Aug. 18, shortly after the August primary. When she followed up with a request for the rest of the information, the city said they would do so on Nov. 10, a few days after the November general election. Lewis is on both of those ballots.
"It raises serious red flags that both of the dates were after elections in which the council member whose records Brandi was seeking would be on the ballot," CADF Executive Director Jackson Maynard told The Center Square. "Part of the reason that the Public Records Act exists is to make sure that people can hold their elected officials accountable. If they can postpone information until after elections, that completely undermines the letter and the spirit of the law."
Requests for comment from the city were not immediately returned Friday morning.
On the day after the vote, Lewis released a statement published by KOMO justifying his sudden change of heart on the matter.
"I want to reiterate what I said from the dais, about my personal experience with this issue: I think it is generally proper for us to do it," he said. "But with the ending of a community court, without any insight into the implementation of this law, and with no guarantees that the Legislature’s intent for diversion and treatment would be prioritized, I cannot support this approach."
The plaintiffs are seeking an immediate full release of the records Kruse requested, penalties and attorney fees from the city.
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