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Cop data Web site escapes court challenge

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Cop data Web site escapes court challenge

  • The state will not appeal a court decision protecting JusticeFiles.org and other publishers of information about police officers.

June 26, 2003 — The attorney general’s office announced Monday that it will not appeal a court ruling overturning a law that prohibits the publication of a police officer’s personal information.

The choice was a difficult one, said Jim Pharris, senior assistant attorney general. The attorney general’s office weighed its options until the deadline for filing an appeal arrived.

Those involved with the case thought an appeal could be successful but that there were better ways to spend state resources, Pharris said.

This decision is not surprising, said Bill Sheehan, the operator of JusticeFiles.org, a Web site that publishes home addresses, social security numbers, and other information about law enforcement officers and staff obtained through public records requests. According to the site, it was designed to be a tool toward “government accountability.”

After the law went into effect last year, Sheehan filed a lawsuit claiming it violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In May, a federal court judge in Seattle ruled that the law was unconstitutional.

Sheehan credits his attorney, Elena Garella, with the success in the case. Without her, the site would no longer exist, and the government would have “steamrolled” him, he said. The law was an attempt by legislators “to see what how much they could get away with,” Sheehan said, and Garella “stepped up to the plate” and defended his rights.

This issue is probably not resolved yet, Pharris said. He expects the legislature to tackle the topic again next year.

Sheehan is prepared to take on the lawmakers once more.

“If [they] violate my rights, we’ll be there again. I’ve had nice, long talks with my attorneys, and we’re waiting,” he said.

(Sheehan v. Gregoire; Media counsel: Elena Garella, Seattle) EH

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