How we reported "Washam's law"

November 12, 2010 

“Washam’s law” is based on three months of reporting and research. Here are the primary sources:

PUBLIC RECORDS

Thousands of pages of public records laid the foundation for the series. The records fall into distinct categories.

COURT RECORDS

The News Tribune assembled and reviewed available records of every court case and legal action involving Dale Washam in the state of Washington and federal courts. The records represent 50 court actions dating from 1972 to the present.

The News Tribune also searched historical court archives dating to 1960, to ensure no early cases were overlooked. The records provided some details about Washam’s family, early employment history, academic background and assets.

Not all cases are mentioned in the series. A prominent example is Washam’s suit against his insurance company, which ran through half of the 1990s, and via appeal, to the Washington Supreme Court.

Washam lost the case, which involved compensation for a damaged car.

Some cases revolved around the same circumstances and actions, such as recall attempts. The News Tribune counted appeals to higher courts as separate actions.

Tallying Washam’s legal wins and losses is an inexact process. The definition of a “win” varies from one attorney to another. Some proceedings do not generate a winner. Washam’s expired 1986 divorce petition is an example.

His legal complaint against then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich briefly entered federal court, generating records, but it never became a formal case because Washam chose not to file it.

The News Tribune counted “losses” based on jury verdicts or rulings by judges on the merits of a claim. For example, Washam sued four landlords, alleging retaliatory eviction. In each case, his claim was rejected.

“Splits” include cases where each side obtained partial victory – including settlements.

“Wins” include cases where Washam prevailed at some level. For example, several of his wins involve defeating harassment petitions.

The scorecard:

 • Six wins

 • Six splits, including settlements

 • One dismissal

 • 36 losses

PIERCE COUNTY RECORDS

Washam has released volumes of public records during his tenure in office to The News Tribune and other sources. He has posted some records on the Pierce County assessor-treasurer’s website. Property records available on the website provided details about property owned and sold by Washam.

The News Tribune also obtained (via public disclosure) records of four independent investigations tied to Washam’s office, which include internal meetings minutes, e-mails, handwritten notes and personal logs kept by employees.

The News Tribune has requested additional records, including internal e-mails sent by Washam and his chief assistants. That request, filed in August, remains unfulfilled (Washam’s office recently provided one installment of requested records – a series of meeting minutes).

OTHER RECORDS

The News Tribune sought and obtained confirmation of Washam’s military service via a request to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.

Pierce College confirmed Washam’s attendance from fall 1969 to spring 1970; he obtained an associate’s degree in arts and sciences.

Records obtained from the Pierce County Auditor’s office include copies of voter pamphlet statements, as well as Washam’s political employment contract.

Records from the state Public Disclosure Commission provided information about Washam’s campaigns.

News Tribune archives dating to 1972 provided past quotes from Washam, and a running history of his public activities.

INTERVIEWS

The News Tribune interviewed dozens of people with past and present ties to Washam, including those who faced him in court and in campaigns and those who supported him. Many were quoted in the series.

Some sources declined to speak for the record, citing their desire to avoid further conflicts with Washam. The News Tribune relied on those sources for background information and to fact-check accounts of incidents described in public records.

No anonymous sources were quoted in this series, with one exception: an online reader who posted a comment supporting Washam.

Employees of the assessor-treasurer’s office fall into a separate category. The News Tribune spoke to several of them. All said they did not want to speak for the record, citing fear of retaliation from Washam. No anonymous quotes were used.

Washam’s quotes in this series come from court records, statements in public meetings, e-mails, Web postings and statements attributed to him in public records.

He declined multiple requests for an in-person interview and insisted that all questions be submitted in writing. The News Tribune declined to be limited to e-mail-only conversations.

Sean Robinson, staff writer

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