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State Supreme Court upholds $502,000 fine for L & I Public Records Act violations

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OLYMPIA  (AP) — The Washington Supreme Court has upheld a $502,000 penalty for Public Records Act violations by the state Department of Labor and Industries, in a case which affirms that judges can calculate such fines based on each page of a withheld record.

The 5-4 decision Thursday came in a lawsuit by The Seattle Times.  The newspaper sought records about workers’ or customers’ exposure to lead dust at a gun shop in Bellevue.

Labor and Industries withheld responsive records under a categorical Public Records Act exemption for “investigative records” that might jeopardize a law enforcement investigation.  The majority said that was inappropriate; the investigation here was unlike a criminal investigation, in part because employers already know if they’re being investigated.

The dissenting justices said they were concerned the opinion effectively removes all limits on Public Records Act penalties.