Evan Smith: Lawsuit over Fimia e-mail continues after State Supreme Court decision

Thursday, October 14, 2010

By Evan Smith
ShorelineAreaNews Politics Writer

Four years after former Shoreline City Councilwoman Maggie Fimia read an e-mail at a Council meeting, a lawsuit over the e-mail continues, despite a recent State Supreme Court decision.

The dispute began at a City Council meeting in September 2006, when Fimia said that she had seen an e-mail from two Shoreline residents, who said that members of the Council had interfered with the investigation of a zoning violation near the home of Beth O’Neill, one of the residents whom Fimia had mentioned.

O’Neill asked for a copy of the e-mail. She got an e-mail that had been forwarded to then-Councilwoman Janet Way, What she didn’t get was information about who had sent the original e-mail, when it had been sent, whom it had been sent to or who had forwarded it. O’Neill sought this information under the State Public Meetings Act.

A King County superior court dismissed O’Neill’s suit against the City for this “metadata,” but an appeals court reversed that decision, saying that metadata should be considered public record.

Then, last week, the State Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, agreed with the appeals court that the metadata was a part of a public record, but the Supreme Court sent the case back to the superior court for a final decision on whether the City had wrongly denied the information to O’Neill and should pay her attorney’s fees.

Dissenting justices said looking for the metadata from the computer was like looking through trash for an envelope.

O’Neill’s attorney, Michele Earl-Hubbard, said Wednesday that the City has the burden of proving that it has complied with the Supreme Court's orders.

Earl-Hubbard said the City would need to have a copy of Fimia’s hard drive from four years ago.

She said that legal fees could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, She said she didn’t know whether Fimia, the City or both would be responsible for the legal fees and for civil penalties, which would be calculated by the number of days since the request more than four years ago. In one case, which Earl-Hubbard described as less egregious than this one, the penalty was $45 per day.

City Attorney Ian Sievers didn’t return my telephone messages.

The Supreme Court record says that the original e-mail was from Diane Hettrick, now the ShorelineAreaNews editor, to Lisa Thwing, then the chairwoman of the 32nd District Republicans. Hettrick, the second resident that Fimia first associated with the e-mail, says that someone on her e-mail list probably forwarded it to Thwing, who then probably forwarded it to Fimia.


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