By Ethan Fowler
Special to the Kitsap Sun
PORT ORCHARD — Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jeanette Dalton denied a motion to dismiss a Public Records Act complaint Friday and forced a hearing to determine whether the act was violated for 9 a.m. March 24.
The Public Records Act (PRA) complaint by plaintiffs Althea Paulson, a political blogger for her website Bainbridge Notebook, and Bob Fortner, a self-described community watchdog, alleges two current Council members, Steve Bonkowski and David Ward, along with former Council member Debbie Lester, used personal email accounts to conduct city business last year about the water utility.
In January, Lester was dropped from the amended complaint.
“I made (Judge Dalton) an argument that she hadn’t even thought about,” said Dan Mallove, attorney for the plaintiffs and Paulson’s husband, after 31-minute hearing. “The essence of the argument was when the council members refused to allow inspection of the hard drives of their personal computers, they were placing their own individual interests ahead of the community because they’re exposing the city to liability if there are responsive public documents on their computers and they’re not produced. And that’s a violation of the PRA.
“If they are placing their own individual interest ahead of the city and they’re wrong, then they should be personally liable for that, not the city.”
As she was leaving the courthouse following the hearing, attorney Jessica Goldman, who represents Ward and Bonkowski, said the March 24 hearing was “unwarranted.” According to her motion to dismiss filing, Goldman said the city did “conduct an adequate search and provided reasonably timely access to the requested public records.”
Mallove said Lester produced more than 100 documents, and Ward and Bonkowski fewer than 10 documents. In phone interviews Monday, Bonkowski confirmed Mallove’s document figure, but Ward said he had submitted “substantially more than 10 documents.”
“They were party to scores of these emails that Lester produced,” Mallove said. “We’re looking for the complete thread of the conversation and how do we know what’s not being produced. The public is at a disadvantage because we don’t know what’s out there.”
Dalton told both sides in the case that she thought the March 24 hearing could require a half day in court.