Regina Taylor, attorney for Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club, received topographical maps she requested from Kitsap County’s Geographic Information System the day after she made the request.
Taylor late last week said she believed her comments at a meeting of the county’s board of commissioners on Sept. 27 lit a fire under to county to comply with her request. But Neil Wachter of the prosecutor’s office, who is handing the county’s case against the gun club for alleged code violations and safety concerns, said information never was withheld from Taylor.
In her comments to the board Monday night, Taylor said she was told by a GIS analyst on Sept. 27 that she would have to go through the prosecutor’s office to get the maps. When I called Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge Tuesday morning for clarification, he said it appeared her request fell under “rules of discovery,” related to litigation. Any time one party in litigation requests information from the opposing party in the suit, the court requires a record of information traded, Hauge said.
Later in the week, Hauge stood by his initial analysis. Based on what I told him, the rules of discovery appeared to apply. But since Wachter is handling the case, Hauge had deferred to him to make the call.
Wachter said he told GIS to “respond to her (Taylor) as they would any other citizen of the county requesting a map.”
There was nothing subversive about how the county responded, he said. “To my knowledge, nothing she has requested has been delayed because of that temporary misunderstanding,” Wachter said.
Part of the confusion stems from the fact the GIS office serves all other county departments, as well as local cities … and the general public. Their job is to make maps, and the bulk of their body of work is available free online to anyone and everyone. Not even a public records request is required. GIS is independent of, yet inter-related to the prosecutor’s office and the department of community development, which is involved in the suit through its code enforcement staff.
Taylor had made an inquiry of GIS during the summer. According to Diane Mark, manger of GIS, Taylor, identifying herself as the the gun club’s attorney, called the office again on Sept. 27, saying she needed certain topographical maps in a hurry (in time for the meeting). The GIS analyst she spoke to contacted DCD to make sure they didn’t already have what she wanted (no point in duplicating efforts), said Mark. DCD, in turn, suggested GIS check with the prosecutor’s office to make sure Taylor’s order didn’t fall under the category of a public records request.
Mark said that also would have been her inclination. “In any situation where there’s any type of litigation, I make sure if any department in the county is involved.”
Wachter’s ruling was, no, not only was what Taylor was asking not subject to the rules of discovery, it did not require a formal public records request. But GIS staff was not so sure, Mark said. The reason was, Taylor asked for topographical maps for properties mentioned in the gun club suit. After some creative thinking, the GIS analyst suggested she simply make a map for Taylor showing land within a radius of the gun club that would encompass those addresses. That’s how Taylor made her request, which was accommodated Tuesday afternoon.
“My concern is that this is being misconstrued as withholding information,” said Mark. “In reality, we bent over backwards to meet her request on very, very short notice.”
Just to review the time frame, Taylor made her initial inquiry about topographical maps this summer. On Sept. 27 (last Monday) she called the GIS office urgently seeking the maps for the meeting that night. Sometime between her inquiry and Tuesday afternoon, GIS contacted DCD, then the prosecutor’s office. Wachter gave GIS the green light, and Taylor’s maps were produced by GIS staff.
So, was Hauge, as Taylor and others have suggested, overstepping his authority? Not in so many terms, according to legal experts from outside Kitsap County. If it’s one thing I’ve learned from interviewing attorneys it’s the meaning of the term equivocal. If I were interviewing doctors, the terminology might be “within normal limits.”
Could Taylor’s request fall under the category of rules of discovery? “It doesn’t sound out of line. It just sounds a little bureaucratic,” said Jan Ainsworth, who teaches criminal law at Seattle University School of Law.
In other words, an attorney would be within his or her rights, when informed of a request such as Taylor’s to say, “Time out, let’s make sure this doesn’t fall under the rules of discovery.”
Then there’s the issue of the interrelationship of county departments. “All of those departments are technically the prosecuting attorney’s clients. That’s why it becomes a little different if it’s litigation,” said Bob Siderius of the Washington Bar Association. “I can see why the prosecuting attorney would want to have records of request made for documents.”
That being said, Siderius added, a simple public records request would seem to suffice.
In any case, be it under rules of discovery, or a public records request or a simple request for data, county officials have consistently supported Taylor’s right to the information she requested. Small detail: rules of discovery allow 30 days for a response. A public records request may be responded to within 5 days, at least to inform the requesting party how long it will take to accommodate the request. The actual document(s) could be weeks out.
But remember, folks, the deputy prosecutor who is handling the case said the information Taylor requested was simple public information, available without a request. And the fact is, she received the maps on Tuesday, pretty quick turn-around for a custom job for a member of the public, Mark said.
“We’ve not done anything to obstruct her from getting the information,” said Hauge. “We’re bending over backwards to accommodate her request.”