Seattle Times files lawsuit over missing text messages from Mayor Durkan

Jun 4, 2021, 12:17 PM
Mayor Jenny Durkan, aarp...
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Seattle Times announced this week that it has filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle, over public disclosure requests the outlet had made to acquire text messages from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s phone that had gone missing.

Mayoral candidate calls on AG to investigate missing texts

The fact that Durkan’s texts were missing was first revealed in a whistleblower complaint filed by Seattle Public Records Officers Stacy Irwin and Kim Ferreiro. The complaint alleged that the mayor’s legal counsel, Michelle Chen, discovered in August 2020 that Durkan’s texts between August 2019 and June 2020 had not been retained, and had then directed Irwin and Ferreiro to narrowly interpret public records requests for the messages to conceal the fact that they were missing.

Durkan’s office later claimed the messages had gone missing due to a setting on her iPhone that automatically deleted texts after 30 days.

In the Times’ lawsuit, it details records requests made by four reporters, while accusing the mayor’s office of not promptly fulfilling those requests, intentionally obfuscating the fact that the messages were missing in the first place, unlawfully withholding records “not exempt from disclosure, and failing “to conduct an adequate search” for others.

Public records expert: Missing texts from city leaders are ‘very suspicious’

“In a democracy, it’s the public’s right to know who is making decisions at City Hall and why — whether it’s about spending tax dollars or shifting police tactics or anything else,” Executive Editor Matassa Flores said in a report published in the Seattle Times announcing the lawsuit. “It should not take months or years for elected officials and public servants to explain their actions. And important records should not be destroyed.”

The Seattle Times is asking that as a result of its litigation, the city “show cause … why it denied The Seattle Times an opportunity to inspect or copy all non-exempt records requested,” a court order declaring that the city violated the Public Records Act, penalties of up to $100 a day for “each record unlawfully withheld,” and attorney fees.

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Seattle Times files lawsuit over missing text messages from Mayor Durkan