Judge blocks News Tribune from obtaining Fife records

A Pierce County Superior Court judge has blocked the City of Fife from releasing records to The News Tribune without giving the newspaper a chance to fight it.

The temporary injunction granted last week prevented the release of city personnel records after the attorney for a former Fife employee filed a last-minute motion. The attorney filed a separate complaint the same day seeking to permanently block disclosure of the records.

Judge Ed Murphy granted the 40-day injunction, despite knowing that The News Tribune hadn’t been notified of the complaint or the hearing.

David Smith, the attorney who filed the complaint, declared in court documents that he didn’t notify the newspaper because he didn’t have a “direct contact.” However, in court documents the attorney named the News Tribune reporter who had submitted the records request.

The News Tribune requested the personnel records July 28.

The complaint claims the newspaper’s request violates the Public Disclosure Act. It states the records “are not of legitimate concern to the public” and that their disclosure would violate privacy rights.

The complaint and the motion to temporarily block the release of records both were filed less than two hours before the expiration of a city-imposed deadline.

The Fife city clerk provided notice of the newspaper’s records request to the former employee in a letter dated Sept. 12, stating that the city would release the personnel records unless an action was filed by 5 p.m. Sept. 22, according to court papers.

The News Tribune is now filing a motion in Superior Court requesting that Judge Murphy reconsider and rescind the temporary injunction.

“I can't recall another time a judge locked up a public document without even notifying us of the hearing,” said Karen Peterson, executive editor of The News Tribune. “The matter absolutely is of concern to the public, and we will press to make it public.”

The judge has not acted on the former employee’s request to block the records permanently. A hearing on that matter is set for January.