Politics & Government

Appeals court rules former Puyallup councilman must disclose emails

Former Puyallup City Councilman Steve Vermillion’s right to privacy does not extend to emails on his personal account that have to do with public business, a state appellate court ruled Tuesday.

Division II of the State Court of Appeals upheld Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stanley Rumbaugh’s 2014 ruling that Vermillion must disclose city-related emails he sent and received from his personal account.

The state Supreme Court declined to review the case and instead referred it to the appeals court.

Vermillion cited his constitutional right to privacy in refusing to provide the records, requested by open government activist Arthur West.

“Vermillion has no constitutional privacy interest in public records that are contained in his personal e-mail account,” Judge Linda Lee wrote in the court’s 3-0 decision.

While the appeals court upheld Rumbaugh’s decision, it ordered the case back to Superior Court, so mechanics of the decision align with another recent Pierce County records case.

In Nissen v. Pierce County, the state Supreme Court ruled last year that Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist needed to disclose text messages on his personal phone that relate to public business.

To do that, the court said he needed to do a good-faith search of the records, disclose any that qualify as public records and provide affidavits about the search, including facts to show information he chose not to release wasn’t a public record.

“(Because) the superior court issued its order before our Supreme Court decided Nissen, we remand this case for the superior court to amend its order to conform to the language and procedure set forth in Nissen,” Lee wrote.

Once it does, Vermillion will be subject to that same search and affidavit process.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell