County wins Public Record Case; Court says attempt to oust Stephens was improper

PRESS RELEASE from PROSECUTOR GAYLORD: Last year, Ed Kilduff sued San Juan County to recover penalties and attorney fees and to oust Jamie Stephens from office. Last week, a Skagit Judge ruled that Mr. Kilduff would recover nothing from the County; instead, he and his attorneys will owe the County $10,000 for bringing an improper lawsuit for ouster.

The ruling, from Judge Brian Stiles of the Skagit Superior Court, ended after several court hearings in Mount Vernon to explain what happened. In the end, the judge upheld the County’s rules for requiring public records requesters to seek an internal review of the county’s response before going to court.

Prosecuting Attorney Randall K. Gaylord explained that Judge Stiles is now the second trial judge to uphold the county’s procedures, the first being San Juan County Superior Court Judge Donald Eaton. Mr. Gaylord explained that internal review is essential to allow a County to correct mistakes, and it is a good way to reduce unnecessary expenses while getting documents that citizens deserve to see.

“If someone is not happy with a response to public records request we want to know about it right away so we can address the concern,” said Gaylord.

Gaylord explained that in 2015, he and Mr. Kilduff talked about the County’s plan to respond to a public record request. A final report was provided to Mr. Kilduff with an invitation to let the county know if he wanted anything more. Instead, almost one year later Mr. Kilduff sued without using the internal review procedure. The judge wrote the internal review process is “consistent with and not precluded by the Public Records Act.”

In an unusual twist, the public records lawsuit included a claim to oust Jamie Stephens from office. The ouster claim is called a quo warranto proceeding. Only two people may file such a proceeding: the Prosecuting Attorney and a person who has a reason to believe he or she is entitled to the office. Mr. Kilduff was neither.

The Court awarded $10,000 in sanctions under a court rule that requires an attorney to conduct an adequate investigation prior to filing suit, and a statute that provides recovery of attorney fees for defending against a frivolous lawsuit.

Jeffrey Myers of Olympia represented the County; Mr. Stephens was represented by deputy prosecutor Jonathan Cain. Mr. Nicholas Power of Friday Harbor and Michele Earl-Hubbard of Seattle represented Mr. Kilduff.

A PDF of the ruling from Judge Stiles is posted here.

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