A defense attorney, seeking to review convictions won by a discredited former Clark County prosecutor, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Clark County Superior Court against the county for the immediate disclosure of police reports related to the prosecutor's alleged misconduct.
Portland attorney Neil Anderson submitted a public records request Aug. 29 to the Clark County Sheriff's Office for all police reports regarding former prosecutor Jeffrey W. Holmes that relate to allegations that he solicited prostitutes.
Anderson filed the lawsuit after a more than four-month delay of the release of certain records and after seeking an opinion from the state Attorney General's Office that the records should be disclosed. He claimed Holmes is receiving preferential treatment as a result of his former position with the county.
"(The county) is taking a different position on this case than they have in past cases," said Greg Ferguson, Anderson's attorney.
Holmes, who was a Clark County prosecutor for six years, resigned in June as a result of a criminal investigation into accusations that he solicited prostitutes. He entered into a diversion agreement Aug. 2 after being accused of a misdemeanor, attempting to patronize a prostitute. The agreement required him to undergo counseling, perform 24 hours of community service and pay a $350 fine. The charge will be dismissed if he remains crime-free until August.
The county provided some of the requested records to Anderson on Oct. 16, Oct. 25 and Nov. 5 but has not yet released other records after Holmes objected to their disclosure.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lori Volkman gives legal opinions to public officials and county departments on public records requests. She explained that some county offices have a practice of giving notice to third parties who might be affected by the disclosure of public records and allowing them the opportunity to file for a protection order to stop the disclosure based on a right to privacy. (State law doesn't require agencies to give third-party notice, but the law allows for it.)
Holmes was notified Dec. 10 that some records containing sensitive information would be released to Anderson on Dec. 28, Volkman said. Holmes requested a 90-day extension to consider seeking a protection order to stop release of the records. In a Dec. 28 letter to Anderson, MaryAnn Gentry, a sheriff's public records supervisor, informed Anderson that Holmes had been granted a 90-day extension and that a response to Anderson's request would be provided by March 1.
"The county afforded Mr. Holmes with preferential or more favorable treatment than other affected third parties in that the county has never in recent history allowed 90 or more days to any citizen to restrain the release of public records," Anderson's complaint stated.
Volkman said the letter from Gentry was in error. She said Holmes was given only a 60-day extension.
Volkman said Holmes was given the extension due to the volume of the records and the intimate information they contained. She said she also wanted to spare the county a potential lawsuit by Holmes for releasing the records.
Anderson asked the state Attorney General's Office to issue an opinion. On Jan. 3, Tim Ford, assistant attorney general for government accountability, responded in a letter that "Clark County's grant of a 90-day delay for the third party to obtain a restraining order seems excessive by comparison to what the attorney general's model rules recognize as a standard delay among agencies." The practice of many agencies is to allow 10 days for a third party to respond, he wrote.
However, Ford noted that the model rules aren't binding, even though agencies "have a duty to promptly disclose records."
"Clark County may have a valid reason for why a 90-day delay is necessary," he wrote. Without that information, he concluded he couldn't issue an opinion and stated that Anderson had the option to challenge the county in court.
Volkman said she has received a request from Holmes to redact parts of the records and will have a meeting Thursday about the request. She said she would know Friday whether all of the records could be released. If Holmes continues to object, the matter may have to go to court, she said.
Holmes didn't immediately return a phone call to The Columbian seeking comment on the public records dispute.