The state Supreme Court’s ruling on a Spokane public records case — the subject of our editorial today — had an interesting nuance.
Justice Barbara Madsen sided with the majority in upholding lower court rulings allowing the Spokane School District to keep documents about a student’s death under wraps. But during oral arguments last March, Madsen seemed to foresee the dangers inherent in keeping the records secret.
A Friday story in the Spokesman-Review (the newspaper which was seeking the documents) quoted Madsen’s questioning of the school district’s attorney:
“Some of the most serious incidents that occur in the school district are going to be the very ones that the public won’t know anything about. … Isn’t that the upshot of your argument?" Justice Barbara A. Madsen asked school district attorney John Manix. "… (T)he (incidents) where you kill a child – inadvertently, negligently or whatever … those will never be known under this rule so we will never hold our school districts accountable for the policies they have in place.”
"I read the facts in this case. I almost fell off my chair," Madsen said at the time. "Is this what we want?"
Madsen wrote a concurring opinion, saying the dissenters made strong policy arguments in favor of public disclosure. But, she argued, the job of changing state law to address those arguments belongs to the Legislature, not the court.