Tomorrow the Court will hear Yakima County v. Yakima Herald-Republic, which concerns whether the Public Records Act applies to administrative court records, specifically billing records explaining fees paid by Yakima County to public defense attorneys.
The Court recently ruled on a similar issue in Federal Way v. Koenig, affirming the twenty-year precedent in Nast v. Michels and finding that administrative court records were not subject to the PRA, so it will be interesting to see if the Court will try to differentiate this case, or merely affirm Koenig.
Yakima County appointed lawyers to represent two indigent murder defendants, paying them approximately $2 million. As part of the payment process, a judge who was not otherwise involved in the case reviewed the lawyers' bills to decide whether they should be paid.
The Yakima Herald-Republic filed a request under the Public Records Act for spreadsheets and other files related to the bills. The County withheld the records, claiming that they were exempt from the Public Records Act under Nast v. Michels because they are judicial records. The Herald-Republic argues that Nast only exempts “court case files,” not administrative records.
Koenig was decided 7-2, with two pro-tem Justices replacing Justices Sanders and Madsen. Owens wrote the lead opinion, Stephens dissented and was joined by Alexander. So if a rematch is held the final vote count could be different, but it seems unlikely Koenig will be overruled.