State, former Walla Walla optometrist settle lawsuit

Kelly Cochrane, who previously practiced in Walla Walla, had sued the state over a public records request.

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WALLA WALLA -- A Pasco optometrist who formerly practiced in Walla Walla has settled a lawsuit against the state Department of Health pertaining to his claim of a public records request violation.

Kelly Cochrane settled the lawsuit for $13,400, according to a news release by his Walla Walla attorney, Janelle Carman.

The settlement reportedly includes $9,000 in damages and $4,400 to reimburse Cochrane for costs and fees.

Cochrane requested records last June from the Department of Health relating to a disciplinary investigation, the news release says. The department reportedly responded that six months would be needed to produce the records, but Cochrane's attorneys believed that was unreasonable.

The news release says the department provided Cochrane the records in February of this year, one week after he sued in Walla Walla County Superior Court.

Carman's release adds that the department hasn't explained the delay. Also, the department admits no wrongdoing as part of the settlement, "but has agreed to improve training for employees on fulfilling public records requests."

Donn Moyer, media relations manager for the Department of Health, said on Tuesday that the state agency crafted the settlement after deciding a settlement to be a better use of taxpayer dollars than financing a legal battle in court.

Although the information Cochrane had requested crossed in the mail with the lawsuit paperwork, "We didn't get it to him when we said we would," Moyer explained.

The complication likely stemmed from the size of the request, he added. "Typically people ask for an entire investigative file, anything that is disclosable. On a detailed request, that can amount to hundreds or more pages, each of which has to be redacted, according to the law, to make sure you, the identities of patients or witnesses are protected.

"As you can tell, it can be a large proposition for any request. We release everything we possibly can."

If an estimated deadline is not able to be met, the department usually sends a letter notifying the requester of the delay, Moyer said. "It appears we did not do that."

In 2008 Cochrane was acquitted of two counts of indecent liberties, stemming from his practice at Valley Vision eye clinic in Walla Walla. The state health department, however, placed the doctor on probation and put restrictions on his license to practice. Last modified on Aug. 31, 2009, those remain in place, Moyer said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom. Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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