The Unmitigated PRA Fiasco

Posted August 20th, 2007 by Joe Kaiser

Has anyone from your office bothered to check it out, or were they all too busy running around with their heads cut off yelling "scam, scam scam?"

Dear Rob,

Your office has forbidden my partner from requesting tax roll information, even though public record access is a cornerstone of your office.

Public Disclosure Act

Why is that?

To me, at least, it makes no sense.


requesting tax roll info

You’re also demanding I refrain from accessing these same public records and in your office’s proposed settlement, I’m required to agree that I will not do so.

Don’t hold your breath.

Yes, this may sound familiar because we discussed this matter earlier in my post, I call BULLSHIT, #23

That was pretty much my position at the time, but I’ve had a new thought or two and figured as long as we’re focused on the ridiculous settlement presentation former AAG Cheryl Kringle put together, now’s as good a time as any to get that “requesting public records” thing sorted out for you.


“Disclosure?”

Cheryl, as seen above, mentions “The Public Disclosure Act” in her presentation.

I suspect she’s referring to the Public RECORDS Act, but I’m only guessing because when it comes to Cheryl’s conclusions about anything, I gave up trying to figure that out a long time ago.

So, as to the PRA, the question at the heart of this matter concerns the effect of RCW 42.17.260(5) which provides, in pertinent part, that:

This chapter shall not be construed as giving authority to any agency to give, sell or provide access to lists of individuals requested for commercial purposes, and agencies shall not do so unless specifically authorized or directed by law.— RCW 42.17.260(5) (now revised and known as 42.56.070(9))

I’ve said all along we don’t request “lists of individuals.” We request lists of tax roll properties or tax sale properties and as such, do not in any way run afoul of the “list of individuals for commercial use” prohibition.


Unlawfully obtaining lists

Your office steadfastly argues otherwise, claiming my request for such information is “unlawful.” Not only that, you’ve sued me for making these requests under that PRA.

Quoted here is the pertinent section from the lawsuit . . .

Defendant locates victims . . . by, among other means, unlawfully obtaining lists of tax delinquent properties. Defendant obtains lists by filing Public Disclosure Requests pursuant to RCW 42.56.01, et seq. This statute prohibits agencies from providing lists to people for commercial purposes. RCW 42.56.070(9).— Amended Complaint, dated June 21, 2007

Who’s right?

Well, I’m just a guy who stops foreclosures every now and then and you’re the guy with a staff of some 500 attorneys in 12 different offices statewide, so I’d say the odds are pretty good your office knows best.

But then again, I’ve witnessed Cheryl in action, first hand.

So, I did a little checking of my own and while visiting the AG’s website, decided to see what your office says about accessing the tax rolls through public records requests.

Interestingly enough, the Office of the Washington State Attorney General issued a “formal opinion” about this very thing way back when Slade Gordon ran the show.

Has anyone from your office bothered to check it out, or were they all too busy running around with their heads cut off yelling “scam, scam scam?”

In my opinion it is the latter.


AGO Opinions

I wondered, exactly what is an Attorney General opinion and found my answer on your website . . .

An Attorney General Opinion is a statement of the Attorney General’s official views on a legal question relating to a public officer’s duties. An Attorney General Opinion, also called a “formal opinion”, thus represents the Attorney General’s official position on a point of law.

An Attorney General Opinion is issued at the request of someone authorized to request such an opinion.

Attorney General Opinions are researched much like opinions issued by appellate courts and require a similar analytical and drafting effort. Attorney General Opinions are not binding on the courts, but they are usually given careful consideration and respect.— Attorney General Rob McKenna


Dear David

Had someone from your office looked at the AGO’s official position on this particular point of law (requesting tax roll public records), you wouldn’t be so breathtakingly wrong and you wouldn’t look so foolish in the position your AAG’s have taken and the ridiculous claims they’ve made.

Turns out, I discovered, Island County Prosecuting Attorney David F. Thiele had requested the Office of the Attorney General’s opinion on this exact situation.

The response from the Office of the Attorney General begins as follows . . .

January 3, 1980

Dear Sir:

By letter previously acknowledged you requested the opinion of this office on two questions pertaining to public disclosure of information maintained by county assessors and used in the assessment of real and personal property for purposes of ad valorem taxation. We paraphrase your questions as follows:

(1) Must a county assessor make available for public inspection and copying his real property assessment list or assessment roll and supporting documents and records and his personal property assessment list or assessment roll?

(2) To the extent that the answer to question (1) is in the affirmative, does RCW 42.17.260(5) nevertheless prohibit the assessor from allowing access to those assessment rolls identifying the names of property owners which are maintained in a list form where such access is requested for commercial purposes?

It continues with a protracted analysis and is summarized as follows . . .

. . . we will assume that a commercial purpose underlies the request; i.e., the requester intends to use the information to contact or in some way personally affect those identified on the list in a manner that would facilitate that person’s commercial activities.

As to question (1), the Office of the Washington State Attorney General has opined as follows . . .

Inspection and copying of an assessor’s property tax assessment roll and supporting materials must be allowed unless the specific exemptions covering taxpayer information provide otherwise.

Huh?

The short answer, then, is “yes,” the assessor must make the information available. But what about the “list of individuals requested for commercial use” prohibition issue?

As to question (2), the Office of the Washington State Attorney General has likewise opined as follows . . .

To answer the question, it is thus necessary to determine, first, whether the assessment rolls fall within the ambit [scope] of the phrase “list of individuals” and second, if so, whether the county assessor is nevertheless specifically authorized or directed by law “to give, sell or provide access to lists of individuals requested for commercial purposes . . .”

Does that document [a sample document of an assessor’s tax roll was in question] constitute a list of individuals within the meaning of RCW 42.17.260(5),supra, or, instead, is it a listing of property?

In our opinion it is the latter.

Under both RCW 84.40.020 and RCW 84.40.160, it is the taxable real property within each county which is to be listed and the mere fact that this listing of such property also includes an identification of its owner (or owners) does not change its basic character.

Therefore, RCW 42.17.260(5), supra, is inapplicable . . .


Carefully considered

INAPPLICABLE, Rob.

Stunned?

Me, I’m pretty much used to it by now.

So, requesting tax roll data per the Public Records Act, even when intending to use that information for commercial purposes, is not only acceptable, it’s confirmed as such by a formal opinion from the Office of the Attorney General?

You’d better believe it, Rob.

That means your office has put my partner and me through all kinds of grief with this public records abuse nonsense when it should have known there was a prior, official, researched, and “carefully considered” Attorney General Opinion confirming we did nothing wrong in requesting tax roll data under the Public Records Act.

And now you’re even suing me over it?

Perfect.


merely lists of properties

Here is the final say in the matter, directly from the Office of the Washington State Attorney General . . .

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY ‑- ASSESSOR ‑- PUBLIC RECORDS ‑- TAXATION ‑- PUBLIC ACCESS TO PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENT ROLLS

(1) Except where prohibited by RCW 42.17.260(5), inspection and copying of an assessor’s property tax assessment roll and supporting materials must be allowed . . .

(2) Real property assessment rolls prepared pursuant to RCW 84.40.020 and 84.40.160 are lists of taxable property and not individuals and, therefore, their disclosure is not prohibited by RCW 42.17.260(5) even for a commercial purpose . . .— Opinion of the WA State Attorney General
AGO 1980 No. 1 – January 03, 1980

Pssssst . . . would you please let the new guy in charge know?


Emblematic cluelessness

An AAG once described a particular transaction we did (she had no clue how it actually worked) as “emblematic.”

Well, Rob, this “unlawfully obtaining lists of tax delinquent properties” farce your office has created is emblematic of this entire investigation and is an unmitigated train-wreck with you at the helm.

How could your office get things so completely wrong over and over again?


In summary

This unlawfully accessing public records nonsense is nothing but a con job to put me out of business, Rob, brought about by out-of-control AAG’s, hell-bent on my destruction, who’ve demonstrated contempt for the very laws they’re sworn to uphold.

It’s sickening.

What’s reality?

In the opinion of the Office of the Washington State Attorney General, (AGO 1980 No. 1 – January 03, 1980) counties are required to provide their tax rolls when requested per the Public Records Act. Simple as that.

But, of course, not according to former AAG Cheryl Kringle. Apparently, she knows better.

Can you imagine the “careful consideration and respect” she gave this opinion?

Me neither, and I think I just vomited in my mouth.

Respectfully,

Joe Kaiser


6 Responses to: “The Unmitigated PRA Fiasco”

  1. Leon Blocksom responds:
    Posted: August 20th, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Joe, what the heck is going on in the peoples Republic of Washington. A bunch of monkeys and a football it sounds like.

    Were this a military operation, Rob would have just blown up the entire platoon.

  2. Chris responds:
    Posted: August 20th, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    It would be laughable if their wasn’t so much hanging in the balance.

  3. Davido responds:
    Posted: August 20th, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Ouch! Are you hurting them yet. It hurts me just to see how vile our government “protectors” are.

    Nice job, Joe.

    Would you please link to, or post, the 1980 AG Opinion? I’ll be needing it here in Thurston Co.

  4. spyboy responds:
    Posted: August 20th, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    Greetings,

    Joe; you state that the AG’s office has forbidden your partner from accessing the public records, but, as I understand it, the fact is that your partner has voluntarily agreed ( consented ) to not access those records, pursuant to a private settlement agreement with that office. Correct ?

    Thank You.
    SpyBoy

  5. Joe Kaiser responds:
    Posted: August 20th, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Davido, link to the opinion is up there now, toward the end of the post.

    Hope that helps.

    Joe

  6. Davido responds:
    Posted: August 22nd, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks for the link to AG’s opinion. Its just right.


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