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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Washington Supremes Reaffirm Attorney-Client Exemption

A sharply divided state Supreme Court reaffirmed attorney-client privilege exemptions from the state's Public Records Act, and said government agencies can challenge records requests in court before releasing any information.

In a 5-4 ruling published Thursday, the high court said documents relating to a child's peanut-allergy death while on a school field trip could be withheld from The Spokesman-Review newspaper of Spokane because of exemptions for attorney-client privilege and attorney work product.

"We conclude that the vast majority of the documents at issue here are protected from disclosure because they are handwritten notes or memoranda about witness interviews created by the legal team, making them protected work product," Justice Bobbe Bridge wrote.

The ruling also found that state or local government agencies can seek a judgment in superior court over whether a particular record is subject to disclosure.

"It's not a good day for public records in the state of Washington," said Duane Swinton, the attorney who represented the newspaper in the case.

The newspaper sought witness accounts of events leading to the death of Nathan Walters, a Logan Elementary third-grader who died on a school field trip in 2001.

More here.

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