Washington justices say public records can be kept from inmates

By Chris Rizo | Jul 4, 2008

Justice Barbara Madsen

OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline)-Although Washington inmates are entitled to government records, prison officials can keep those papers from prisoners if the information is considered contraband, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In a 5-4 high court ruling could affect the flow of information to Washingtonians behind bars, analysts said.

The case came after a Public Records Act request from Michael B. Livingston, who was serving time for armed robbery, was denie.

He sought training records of a corrections officer.

Although the state Department of Corrections complied with the request, the papers were intercepted in the mailroom of the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Littlerock, Wash.

Prison officials told Livingston he could not receive records about Department of Corrections employees. He could, however, have the records forwarded to someone else who was not in custody.

Livingston sued, claiming the Corrections Department was improperly using its mail rule to block lawful requests for public records.

The Supreme Court ruled against him, saying the Department of Corrections fulfilled its responsibility under the Public Records Act when the records were mailed to Livingston.

"The Public Records Act does not limit the department's discretion in prohibiting entry of public records that it reasonably deems inappropriate in a prison setting," Justice Barbara Madsen wrote for the majority.

The majority opinion was signed by Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and Justices Bobbe Bridge, Mary Fairhurst and Charles Johnson.

A dissenting opinion by Justice James Johnson said prison rules should not be able to block requests under the Public Records Act.

"Since making records available and withholding them are mutually incompatible, the laws conflict, and the Public Records Act controls," Johnson wrote.

The case is No. 79608-4, Livingston v. Cedeno.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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