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Originally published Friday, October 21, 2011 at 11:46 AM

State stops releasing Ref. 71 petitioner names

Pending a hearing Monday by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Secretary of State's Office has stopped releasing Referendum 71 petition names to the public after a religious conservative group filed an emergency motion with the court.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Pending a hearing Monday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Secretary of State's Office has stopped releasing Referendum 71 petition names to the public after a conservative religious group filed an emergency motion with the court.

The decision follows a Monday ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle that Protect Marriage Washington had failed to prove the 137,500 signers of Referendum 71 petitions would be subject to harassment if their names were released.

Ref. 71 was a failed attempt by Protect Marriage two years ago to repeal the expansion of Washington's domestic-partnership law. Voters retained the law, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Calling Monday's ruling by Settle a "dramatic setback to the right of privacy in the state of Washington," Protect Marriage immediately filed a notice to appeal.

The Secretary of State, which lauded the decision as a victory for transparency, began releasing DVDs of the petition signatures within hours of Monday's ruling.

By the end of the day Thursday, it had released 30 DVDs — with two pending, spokesman David Ammons said.

On the advice of the Attorney General, he said, the Secretary of State will suspend any further release until the court considers the emergency motion on Monday, he said.

In the brief it filed with the Appeals Court to halt further release, Protect Marriage said there's no indication individuals likely to do the most harm already have the petitions. "Indeed, those individuals may very well seek the petitions in the next few weeks," the group said in its filing.

Ultimately, Protect Marriage seeks an exemption to the state's Public Records Act and said if it wins on appeal, it will be "unable to recover the harm caused by the state's release of the petitions" while the appeal was pending.

The Attorney General's Office, in its brief, calls the issue moot, noting a number of DVDs are already in public circulation. It wants the Appeals Court to permit continued release of the records, for the sake of transparency.

Friday's development continues a 26-month legal battle over the referendum petitions.

Protect Marriage first sought to block their release in 2009 after a gay-rights activist announced he would make the names and addresses of those who signed searchable online.

Settle granted a preliminary injunction, sealing the Referendum 71 petitions. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in a year before being remanded back to Settle.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

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