Washington Law Review


Voters adopted Washington’s Public Records Act (PRA) in 1972 as part of a broader ballot measure to enhance openness in state government. The PRA requires state government agencies, including statewide agencies and municipalities, to establish procedures so that the public can request copies of records agencies generate. The PRA exempts certain records from disclosure, and other statutes and case law supply additional exemptions. When an agency refuses to disclose records, the requester may ask a court to determine whether an exemption applies. If no exemption applies, the court may compel disclosure of the records and impose monetary penalties against the non-compliant agency, including attorney fees. Under the PRA, courts review denials de novo and in light of legislative intent, erring on the side of broad public access. In addition to reviewing denials, courts have recently been asked to consider whether an agency’s procedural rules under the PRA are reasonable. In analyzing procedural rules, some courts have applied the same broad interpretation used for substantive PRA questions, refusing to presume that an agency’s procedural regulations are valid despite administrative law and municipal law doctrines requiring such a presumption. As a result, courts have imposed heavy penalties on public agencies at great taxpayer expense. This Comment argues that courts should presume an agency’s procedural rules adopted for purposes of the PRA are valid as long as they are consistent with the statute’s mandate.

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