In 2018, Spokane Falls Community College President Darren Pitcher was fired after a slew of allegations portraying him as a "predator," including the allegation that he groped a woman and exposed his penis to her.
But when local media outlets filed records requests to try to figure out what the allegations were, an attorney representing the accuser and other witnesses interviewed in the report sued to keep their names confidential. And while a superior court judge ruled that releasing the names would create a "chilling effect" and make it harder for victims to come forward, the state of Washington Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, concluding that public records law demanded that the names be disclosed.
But then the law itself changed. Last year, Rep. Laurie Dolan, a Democrat from Olympia, introduced HB2020, a bill that, by default, exempted the names of accusers and witnesses in discrimination cases from the public records act. Her bill, she believed, would "decrease predatory harassment in our state agencies" and would still allow victims to come forward if they chose.
Yet since the Community Colleges of Spokane hadn't released the unredacted records to the Spokesman-Review by the time the law went into effect, the Court of Appeals ruled that the new law applied to the records.
"The legislative branch has the right to frustrate a pending Public Records Act request," the Court of Appeals concluded on Tuesday.
Even though the Spokesman-Review had made its request before the law was written, the court noted, the new law applies to the disclosure of the names, which hasn't happened. As a result, the names would likely remain forever redacted, though it's up to Spokane Superior Court to figure out the details.
Spokesman-Review Managing Editor Joe Palmquist says the Spokesman-Review hasn't discussed how to handle the issue moving forward. In an interview last month, he said the paper didn't intend to print the names of any accusers, only to reach out to them.
"Maybe the institution did several things in order to overlook this," Palmquist says. "We'd never know if we can't talk to these women."