Open government laws allow private citizens to monitor public servants. But this vital function of access presents a clash of competing interests: the privacy of public employees versus the public’s right to know. Washington’s Public Records Act (PRA) seeks to balance these interests, and the Washington Supreme Court has fought to adhere to the PRA’s spirit of open government while creating bright-line rules for the ease of government agencies. The Bainbridge Island Police Guild court held that investigative reports of unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct against public officials are highly offensive to a reasonable person and that the public has an interest in knowing about the fact of an allegation, but not the identity of the accused. Part II of this Note lays out the events that led to Kim Koenig’s allegations of misconduct against Bainbridge Island Police Officer Steven Cain and the subsequent public records requests. Part III presents the policies of the PRA and the reasoning employed in the opinions in Bainbridge Island Police Guild and prior cases. Part IV critiques the court’s reasoning in its right to privacy jurisprudence. Part V offers a brief conclusion.
Robert E. Miller, Public Duties, Private Rights: Privacy and Unsubstantiated Allegations in Washington’s Public Records Act, 36 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 1553 (2013).