I can think of only two possible explanations, neither of which are very comforting.
I’ve got to tell you, I simply cannot get over this Public Records Act fiasco.
Try as I might, I just keep coming right back to it again and again because truly, it is inconceivable your office could screw anything up this badly.
the short story
For readers who missed it earlier, the Office of the Washington State Attorney General has sued me for “unlawfully” requesting public records from county treasurers.
I frequently request their tax rolls and their lists of properties in upcoming tax foreclosure sales. This information, I always thought, was public record and available to anyone interested in obtaining it.
The AG’s office, though, tells me that’s not correct.
Since my intention was (and is) to do deals with the people who own these properties, mine was a request “for commercial purposes” and according to the AG’s office, that’s a bozo no-no (it’s a technical term) in this state.
I checked it out (the Public Records Act – RCW 42.56.070(9)) and discovered only “lists of individuals” are the type of public record that falls under the “commercial use” prohibition.
Since I only request lists of properties and not individuals, my requests should be just fine.
Well, not according to the AAGs involved in this investigation. In their view, what I do is “unlawful” and is further evidence of my foreclosure rescue shenanigans.
fast forward to the present
To me, that makes no sense and brings all kinds of additional questions to mind . . .
- Why would tax rolls be something that needs to be kept away from investors like me? Tax rolls have always been available to the public
- Why should I not be entitled to know about properties in a public tax auction where having investors involved is what makes it work in the first place? Without investors, there is no tax sale.
- Doesn’t your office know counties routinely post their foreclosure lists to their websites and that the law requires tax sale lists to be advertised in the newspaper?
- And who didn’t obtain tax roll data for anything but commercial purposes?
Title companies have access to tax roll data, as do the various information companies like MetroScan and Real Data and others.
They buy tax roll information from county treasurers and resell it all the time (I even subscribed for many years to these very services).
So why was I being accused of doing something unlawful for merely requesting tax roll information when other companies are free to do the very same thing without consequence?
Eventually, I made my way to the Office of the Washington State Attorney General’s website and decided I’d see if there was a formal opinion about how the AG views the tax rolls.
The Office of the Washington State Attorney General often produces “formal opinions” that confirm its view of the statutes in question and has an extensive collection of these opinions in an online database.
A formal opinion by the Office of the Attorney General is THE gold standard. Its opinions are carefully constructed and you can pretty much take them to the bank.
Sure enough, there was just such an opinion on this exact matter, (AGO 1980 No. 1 – January 03, 1980).
The Office of the Washington State Attorney General, after extensive analysis, determined county tax rolls were NOT lists of individuals but lists of properties, and therefore, the prohibition against releasing that information to people like me requesting it “for commercial purposes” didn’t even apply.
County treasurers, it turns out, are required by law to provide this information to anyone requesting it, even if their intention is to use it for commercial purposes.
That means my requests were perfectly fine all along and there was nothing whatsoever improper about me obtaining these records.
Unlawful to request tax roll data?
Heck no, IT’S UNLAWFUL FOR COUNTIES TO DENY ME ACCESS TO IT.
Talk about getting it completely wrong.
So why did the AG sue me over it?
I can think of only two possible explanations, neither of which is very comforting.
One, they knew about their own office’s formal opinion and decided to ignore it. That means they’re so completely bent on sticking it to me they don’t care what the law says and are willing to do or say anything to win this case, including intentional deception.
And that’s impossible to even imagine.
Two, they didn’t know about their own office’s formal opinion and never bothered to check. To me, that’s the more likely scenario and only further serves to demonstrate the utter incompetence of the people handling this investigation.
Can you imagine a more embarrassing situation?
Here we have out-of-control AAG’s running around hollering “scam” and claiming I’m doing something unlawful when in actuality their own office has long since blessed my actions with their golden “formal opinion” that deems what I do perfectly fine.
What, they just never bothered to check the formal opinion database?
That, too, is impossible to imagine.
Rob, I have zero sympathy for you and am not in any way troubled by exposing this investigation for what it is and making you and your staff look exceedingly foolish.
While it may damage your reputation, imagine what being on the receiving end of this unlawful prosecution must be like for the rest of us.
That, too, should be impossible to imagine.
But, regrettably, it’s not. Thanks to deceit or incompetence (feel free to choose whichever works for you), I am having to pay the price of being abused at the hands of the Washington State Attorney General and that, too, is sickening.
Rob, is it your office’s intentional deceit or merely its gross incompetence that has taken us to this point?
And are you familiar with the word, emblematic?