Seattle asks court to allow naming of disciplined cops
The Seattle City Attorney's Office asked a judge Tuesday to overturn a labor arbitrator's ruling that had ordered the Police Department to stop releasing the names of officers who have been disciplined for misconduct.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Seattle City Attorney's Office has asked a judge to overturn a labor arbitrator's ruling that had ordered the Police Department to stop releasing the names of officers who have been disciplined for misconduct.
The petition, filed Tuesday in King County Superior Court, contends the arbitrator's decision misinterprets the city's collective-bargaining agreement with the police union, and requires the city to violate "explicit, well-defined, and dominant" policy under the state's public-records law.
Calling the decision an "absurd result," the petition said the ruling required the city to "assert a public-records exemption that the City knows is unsupportable by law."
The case is scheduled to be heard by Chief Civil Judge Laura Inveen on June 29.
In anticipation of the court filing, the Police Department has adhered to its policy of releasing the names of disciplined officers in response to public-disclosure requests filed by the news media and others.
The arbitrator's May 24 decision found that the city had violated a 2008 contract with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild by releasing the names of disciplined officers.
In the petition, city attorneys argued that language in the contract obligates the Police Department to follow the Public Records Act (PRA).
Citing state Supreme Court decisions, the petition said the act represents a "strongly worded mandate" for broad disclosure of public records, with limited exceptions, and carries financial penalties for the improper denial of documents.
"Forcing the City to knowingly violate the PRA is contrary to public policy and must be rejected by the Court," the petition said.
The Police Department began releasing names of disciplined officers in 2009, reversing a long-standing policy of redacting names from the records.
The policy change grew out of the city's adoption of 29 recommendations of a citizens panel submitted to the city in January 2008. The panel sought to hold officers more accountable in the aftermath of two highly publicized incidents that raised questions about the department's disciplinary rules.
The guild filed a grievance over the change, asserting the contract required the withholding of names and that the city changed its stance without bargaining with the union.
Sgt. Rich O'Neill, the guild's president, couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, and the guild's attorney said he hadn't seen the petition and couldn't respond.
The arbitrator, Paul Grace, agreed with the guild that the contract required the city to continue its policy of withholding "personal identifying information" from disciplinary and investigatory records.
Grace, a former Shoreline City Council member and onetime union negotiator, found the city didn't provide adequate notice during contract negotiations about its plans to change the policy. He also found that the city had presented no new case law supporting its position during the arbitration.
His ruling came at a time when the Police Department — under U.S. Justice Department investigation over allegations of misuse of force and mistreatment of minorities, and facing criticism that it isn't transparent — has sought to provide more information about internal investigations.
The department told Grace the community expected openness.
According to the city's petition, the guild asked Grace to find that the contract mandates the redaction of officers' names until the city is ordered to do otherwise by a court.
The guild's position is that the labor agreement requires the city to assert an exemption to the records act and refuse to release names, even when Police Department officials believe there is "no factual or legal basis for such an assertion," the petition said.
"Any future penalties or attorney-fee awards for violation of the PRA would, in the Guild's view, constitute an acceptable cost of complying with the Guild's interpretation of the agreement," the petition said. "The Guild has never addressed the public's interest in prompt, full disclosure of records under the Act."
Information from Seattle Times archive is included in this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or email@example.com
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