Alan Harvey of Clark County is suing Jefferson County after he said he waited a year for officials to provide public records. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News) ​

Alan Harvey of Clark County is suing Jefferson County after he said he waited a year for officials to provide public records. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News) ​

Jefferson County sued over records delay

PORT TOWNSEND — A Clark County man is suing Jefferson County after he waited a year for the county to provide public records, he said.

Alan Harvey filed the lawsuit Jefferson County Superior Court on Nov. 17, 2017.

In its response, the prosecuting attorney’s office said that the records were provided in December.

“I do know that as soon as the error came to our attention, the county tried to rectify it immediately,” said Michael Haas, Jefferson County prosecuting attorney, on Tuesday. “Hopefully we can settle so that both sides are satisfied.”

Haas said he didn’t know why the request was not filled in a timely manner.

Harvey requested on Nov. 17, 2016 all documents created between July 19, 2016 to Nov. 17, 2016, related to a specific criminal or internal investigation.

Harvey’s attorney, David Gross of Pinnacle Law in Vancouver, Wash., declined to be interviewed over the phone Tuesday and did not immediately respond to an email asking why Harvey wanted the records. It wasn’t clear Tuesday what investigation his request referred to.

In the complaint Gross filed on Harvey’s behalf, he claims the county didn’t produce any documents or records and that the county didn’t provide any written communication once his request had been acknowledged more than a year ago.

“Jefferson County refused to provide records,” the complaint alleges. “Further, the [county] failed to engage in any reasonable effort to comply with [Harvey’s] requests in a reasonable time period.

[The county’s] actions or lack of action were the cause of the unreasonable delay and amounted to a failure to provide the requested documents pursuant to the Public Records Act,” the complaint reads.

Harvey is asking that the records be made immediately available for inspection and copying, that the county pay his attorney fees and that the county pays him for the lack of response.

Agencies can be forced to pay $5 to $100 per day per each responsive record that wasn’t provided, according to state law. The state Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in 2016 that agencies can be charged penalties for each page withheld.

Court records show the county anticipated needing about a month and a half to fill the request in its entirety, though Harvey argues the estimate wasn’t based on any consultation with any person assigned to gather the records.

The county sent Harvey a letter on Dec. 1, 2017 — more than a year later — apologizing and explaining the lack of communication, court records say.

The county provided Harvey with records the same day and provided an additional installment of records Dec. 7.

Jefferson County Sheriff David Stanko was the first official to respond to the request on Nov. 17, 2016, assuring Harvey that “all information will be provided to you,” and that he was out of the office until Nov. 21, 2016.

Stanko’s confidential secretary told Harvey on Nov. 18 that he would receive the requested documents by Jan. 3, 2017, the lawsuit says.

“Because of the size of this request it will take some time to identify and redact exempt information,” Sharon Mitchel, wrote in an email, according to court papers.

Haas said he couldn’t comment on whether he sees the county settling the lawsuit, how much money the county might pay out, or whether the case will continue to play out through the courts.

“It would be premature to respond,” he said. “I don’t really know at this point in time.”

The county admits in its answer to the lawsuit that Harvey is entitled to “all costs [and] reasonable attorney’s fees,” associated with the lawsuit.

The county also admits that it is within the court’s discretion to force the county to pay penalties.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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