Dead but awaiting final rites, the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority apparently will be allowed to take some of its most treasured internal documents to its grave, as a King County Superior Court judge recently tossed a lawsuit seeking disclosure of the agency's records.
The suit, filed by the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG), was in part a fishing expedition, since no one but the monorail authority knows for sure what the documents contain. In court, the coalition, whose board members include attorneys, public officials, and news executives, argued the documents were "not confidential communications" between the monorail and its attorneys, despite agency claims to the contrary, and suggested the material was being withheld under the guise of containing legal advice.
The coalition had sought 1,007 documents that the agency claimed were protected by the privilege. These documents—some of which the agency agreed to release voluntarily—were created in the agency's early years, when SPMA was known as the Elevated Transportation Company.
A citizens group tried to obtain many of the same records in 2002 but was turned back by a court ruling. That ruling became part of a consolidated case that led to the Hangartner decision, which broadened attorney-client protection. Subsequently, the WCOG argued that such privilege is sometimes used to circumvent disclosure and hide embarrassing moments in government. But SPMA attorney Laura Clinton said WCOG was "plainly attempting to relitigate" the Hangartner ruling.
In an Oct. 12 order issued without written comment, Judge Gregory Canova dismissed the suit after the SPMA successfully argued that WCOG asked for the records too late, in violation of a statute of limitations established by the state Legislature in 2005 that placed a one-year window within which parties could take legal action in public-record cases. No appeal is planned, says WCOG attorney Shelley Hall, "but we're exploring other options."
The lawsuit is one of the final obligations of the now-skeletal monorail agency, whose plans for transporting Seattleites via sky train were killed off after its costs ballooned and a 2005 public advisory vote stopped it cold in its tracks.