Jason Mercier, one of my colleagues on the board of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, dutifully alerts us to any court rulings involving open meetings and public records laws.
Today Jason slipped this state Court of Appeals decision into our email inboxes, without comment. I don’t know if he even read it. But it’s a real gem. Here’s the gist:
A gentleman named Kevin Michael Mitchell, currently enjoying the state’s hospitality at one of its fine penal institutions, hit a modest legal jackpot in a public-records lawsuit last year. Mr. Mitchell, an avid jailhouse lawyer, asked the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, a quasi-public agency, to provide certain public information concerning a study the institute conducted for the state Department of Corrections.
The institute referred his PRA request to DOC, in the erroneous belief that DOC owned the records. It was well over a year before Mr. Mitchell obtained the information to which he was legally entitled. Naturally, he sued the institute for damages under the PRA. The institute had to admit it had screwed up. A trial court accordingly ordered the institute – i.e., the taxpayers – to pay Mr. Mitchell $2,225 plus legal costs.
Mr. Mitchell, like any good crook, saw an opportunity to bolster his winnings. He submitted a fictitious claim for legal costs, although he had employed no lawyer. When his fraud was revealed, the institute, of course, called this to the court’s attention. Whereupon the court vacated part of its previous judgment and fined Mr. Mitchell $2,316.86, leaving him with total winnings of $124.37.
With breathtaking chutzpah, Mr. Mitchell appealed, claiming the trial court had made numerous errors and should not have dinged him for such minor technicalities as submitting a fraudulent legal invoice using the name of an actual attorney who never did any work for Mr. Mitchell.
The state Court of Appeals, Division II, found Mr. Mitchell’s arguments “fascinating” — but no soap. Mr. Mitchell loses most of his award and DOC can confiscate what’s left.
This would be just an amusing little anecdote about a criminal who got the law on his side for once and then got greedy, except for the fact that the state – meaning us taxpayers – spent a whole lot more than $2,225 to dispense with this con’s avaricious claim. Go ahead and chuckle. Then grind your teeth.