Pierce County has expended more than $280,000 to prevent the production of Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist’s private phone records, which we now know he long ago deleted. He concedes the calls were business calls, but claims they are not subject to public disclosure laws because he used his personal phone.
Public records are created for the agency by their employees. Just as an inventor’s work belongs to the company that employs the inventor, the records belong to the agency. The prosecutor can keep his phone, but the data is the county’s.
The Washington Supreme Court may disagree with this simple analogy and rule that the prosecutor’s phone records are personal records. If so, then the prosecutor would have no obligation to retain the records, and their destruction is inconsequential to Lindquist but not to the public.
If the court rules public business done on a personal phone are private, then the purpose of the Open Records Act will have been gutted. On the other hand, if the prosecutor's phone records are deemed to be public records, he could possibly be charged with destruction of public records.
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The elimination of the records has created a problem greater than their existence ever did.
(Cain, a Tacoma attorney, is one of three people who have filed a complaint against Lindquist accusing him of trying to improperly influence a judge.)