Jefferson hires outside attorney for public records case

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A lawsuit over a public records request has led to Jefferson County retaining outside legal counsel to advise the county about the case.

Mats Mats resident Mike Belenski is seeking Internet access logs that show the websites visited by county employees and how much time was spent on each site.

Jefferson County commissioners have hired Law, Lyman, Daniel Kamerrer & Bogdanovich P.S., an Olympia-based law firm, to provide advice to them.

Outside counsel was necessary because of the novel issues presented by the electronic data requested and the fact that there aren’t any cases on electronic records and the Public Records Act,” said David Alvarez, chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney.

“I needed another attorney to consult with so that if I missed a concept or was only seeing the trees and not the forest, I would get advice from another attorney well-versed in the PRA.”

The county’s motion-for-summary judgment, a request to dismiss all charges, will be heard at 1:30 p.m. April 5 in Clallam County Superior Court at the courthouse at 223 E. Fourth St. in Port Angeles.

The resolution approved three hourly rates: $205 for a lawyer, $155 for an associate and $85 for a paralegal with no maximum amount set.

Belenski filed the request Sept. 27, 2010, requesting the logs from Feb. 1 to Sept. 27 of that year.

On Oct. 5 of that year, the county told Belenski that “no responsive records” fall under that category. It later allowed that the records existed but said they were not public.

Belenski’s current case centers on five requests for information: Internet logs for 10 months of 2010; certificates of destruction proving that requested records no longer exist; Internet logs for 10 months of 2011; all electronic records that have not been backed up; and explanations for why the records were not supplied.

The county’s response is that the requested logs do not qualify as public records and that records that are not backed up aren’t separated from other records.

Belenski, who is acting as his own attorney, did not return a call for comment.

“The question is what is and what is not a public record,” said Tom Thiersch, who is assisting Belenski in his case.

“The county has these records, and there is no reason to not disclose them.”

Thiersch said the county denied supplying the records because they were in electronic form and could not be read by standard computer programs, but the ability to read the records should not be a criterion as to whether they are disclosed.

Belenski is asking for a judgment against Jefferson County that finds that it violated the law by failing to allow the inspection of public records.

He is not requesting specific monetary damages but asks for reimbursement of court costs and a daily fine until the county complies.

Thiersch called the suit “a pretty simple public records case.

“Mike thinks the records are public, and the county says they aren’t, so he sued,” Thiersch said.

Alvarez said no decision has been reached as to who will represent the county in court as all energies are now focused on preparing the motion-for-summary judgment.

“This is a complicated case,” Alvarez said.

“But we have an answer for every one of his allegations.”



Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 05. 2013 5:57PM
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