Gov. Gregoire's claim of executive privilege off mark

Yet, a judge is keeping the argument alive even though executive privilege is not included in the state constitution.

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Public documents should be available to the public except for the few exemptions allowed in state law. That's as it should be. After all, the documents and records produced are created on behalf of the people as part of their government.

Yet, it's not always easy -- or pleasant -- for public officials when documents and records are made public. The information can be embarrassing -- or worse.

We don't know the specific reasons Gov. Chris Gregoire and her staff want to keep secret documents requested by a Libertarian think tank, the Freedom Foundation. There might well be a legitimate reason for keeping the documents secret.

But we aren't buying the broad reason -- executive privilege -- offered by Gregoire's office and then accepted by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy. The judge's decision last week allowed the documents to remain secret -- at least for now.

Ironically, Murphy said the Gregoire can claim executive privilege as a reason to withhold records even though it is not listed as a specific exemption under state.

Gregoire's office contends that executive privilege is inherent in the constitutional guarantee of separation of powers and that it is necessary so she and her advisers can talk candidly as they work to make decisions.

Really? Why then is that not specifically mentioned in the state constitution or spelled out in state law where there is more than 300 specific exemptions listed.

We believe, absent a compelling reason linked to one of those 300-plus exemptions, the public should have access to the documents and records.

In addition, we hope the Freedom Foundation appeals the ruling. Allowing blanket executive privilege to stand will make it easier for the governor and other state leaders to withhold documents in the future.

"At that point," said Mike Reitz, an attorney for the Freedom Foundation, "the governor has a broad exemption at her disposal as opposed to a narrow one."

This matter isn't finished in Murphy's court. She has said she will to hold another hearing to determine whether Gregoire properly asserted the executive privilege claim in blocking the release of documents.

That clarification might be of some help, although we fear her original ruling has already -- as the old saying goes -- opened the barn door.

It would be best for citizens if the claim of executive privilege were overturned by the courts. State laws on open records is clear and should be followed.

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