The state Supreme Court apparently couldn't, as the old saying goes, see the forest through the trees.
What else explains why the justices, albeit by a close 5-4 margin, ruled last week an inmate was wrongly denied the opportunity to argue for release of personnel files of Washington State Penitentiary employees?
The high court ruling overturns a 2005 decision by now-retired Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Robert Zagelow. That ruling was upheld by the state Court of Appeals.
Last week's Supreme Court ruling finds the trial court was required under civil rules to include inmate Allan Parmelee as an interested party in a lawsuit filed by the penitentiary staff members against the Department of Corrections to prevent the agency from turning over their personal information, including photographs and home addresses.
The four dissenting justices questioned -- and this is the key point, the forest so to speak -- whether employees shouldn't have prevailed anyway given that Parmelee had said he wanted the files so he could find "a couple big ugly dudes to come to Walla Walla for some late night service on these punks."
The 4-4 tie was broken by Justice Richard Sanders, who focused on the state Public Disclosure Act. He said the DOC shirked its duty to turn over the records and too quickly sided with prison personnel in urging the trial court to withhold them.
This newspaper continues to be a strong supporter of the Public Disclosure Act. We believe the people have a right to documents created on their behalf by the government.
But the law exempts some documents for a variety of reasons, including privacy concerns. Personal information about DOC employees would seem to legitimately fall in that category.
Yet, that is apparently not crystal clear, which is one of the reasons Parmelee went to court. Another reason is that the inmate seemed to see it as yet another opportunity to stick it to the DOC and its employees.
Parmelee has a history of this behavior. This past legislative session, Parmelee was held up as the poster boy for a new law that limits inmates from using the disclosure laws to harass agencies and government workers, The Seattle Times reported. Parmelee, a former legal assistant sent to prison for torching the cars of two lawyers, filed 788 requests with the DOC in one five-month period in 2005, according to officials.
In the end, last week's Supreme Court's ruling will not result in Parmelee, now an inmate at the Monroe Corrections Center, getting the information he sought. It merely allows him to argue pointlessly for the release of the information.
What a complete waste of time and money.