Washington State Liquor Board pays off public records suit filer

MoneyWhile a “gadfly” is a fly that hangs out on horses and cattle, the phrase had made its way into modern day colloquialisms as someone who provokes questions or issues basically ‘for the hell of it.’  At least, that’s how articles are describing Arthur West, an Olympia, WA resident who the state’s liquor board has just agreed to pay nearly $200,000 to.  The public records suit alleges that the Liquor Control Board did not adhere to open meetings laws when it began to work on plans for how the state will regulate its legal marijuana scheme (possession and consumption of marijuana has been legal for residents of Washington state for roughly two years now).

Interestingly enough, this is far from the first time that West has filed suits against government organizations over their adherence to open meetings law.  It’s not the first time he’s received a sizeable payout for his efforts either; just last month he collected $187,000 from the Port of Olympia.  The scenario was similar, with the same types of violations accused.

In the more recent case, a judge sided with West, finding 17 violations and ordering the board to pay up.  Interestingly enough, however, there was a caveat attached to the deal that was finally made:  The Liquor Board would pay West, on the condition that he cannot, going forward, file any public records requests or lawsuits against the Board with regards to its overseeing of the marijuana market (recreational or medical).

While the deal is inherently odd, it also raises questions about the motivations behind West’s filings.  He’s been cashing in majorly on many of the lawsuits he brings to the table, and doing so in the name of an open government and transparency.  It begs the question, which is really more important, the principles, or the payout?  The lines have become blurred with West’s accepting of this new deal, because he’s relinquishing the ability to further watchdog a certain government agency.

On his behalf, Toby Nixon, who heads up the Washington Coalition for Open Government, said that West’s heart was always in the right place and that he simply wanted to keep people accountable.  But what about the specifics of this deal itself?  Nixon says that the idea of a government agency paying out with such conditions is odd, unheard of, even, but that perhaps West felt that the large fine would be enough of a deterrent to keep future problems from arising.  That, plus the fact that if a real issue arose with the Liquor Control Board in the future, many of West’s friends and acquaintances would probably be more than happy to file the suits themselves.

As for additional details of the case:  West accused that while the board did often follow the open records laws set out for Washington state, government officials and board members would also meet in private with members of local police forces, among others.  It is expected that West will receive roughly half of the settlement amount personally, as his attorney received $87,000 of the $187,000 paid out in the previous case with the Port of Olympia.