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Judge releases
mayor's computer files—with conditions

Judge releases
mayor's computer files—with conditions


A judge has granted a request to make public the gay-themed contents of Spokane, Wash., mayor James West's city-owned laptop computer but prevented the release of 3,300 photos of members of a gay-oriented Web site.

A judge has granted a newspaper's request to make public the gay-themed contents of Spokane, Wash., mayor James West's city-owned laptop computer but prevented the release of 3,300 photos of members of a gay-oriented Web site. Adams County superior court judge Richard Miller ordered the release of an index of the dates and times West used the computer to access and similar Web sites, but with individual Web addresses redacted to protect the privacy of third parties. West is the subject of a December 6 recall election because of a sex scandal involving gay men, and several news organizations have demanded the release of the contents of West's computer under the state's Open Public Records Act. "Clearly the public has the right to evaluate the mayor's performance," Miller said Thursday. "The dilemma this court finds itself in is, to release the pictures essentially releases the identity of the people in them. I don't think that's appropriate." The judge reviewed the contents of the mayor's hard drive. He said he found 3,300 photographs. About 100 of those were pictures of male genitalia or buttocks, and 11 were of simulated sex acts, the judge said. Many showed upper torso pictures of shirtless men, the judge said. There was no text with the photos, he added. Miller was assigned the case after Spokane County superior court judges recused themselves. The recall election charge alleges that West abused his office by offering a City Hall internship, in expectation of sexual favors, to a person he met in a chat room, whom he believed to be an 18-year-old man. The chat partner was actually a computer expert hired by The Spokesman-Review newspaper to track West's online activities. West has denied any wrongdoing. The judge's decision came a day before the special election ballots were to be mailed. West fought release of the computer contents in question, contending they were private and that the Internet sites were accessed during off-work hours. The Spokesman-Review, the Associated Press, and several other media organizations had filed requests to view the contents of the hard drive. Miller said he would not allow access to profiles of members of the gay Web site's dating service because those people had expectations of privacy. "It could 'out' people without their permission," Miller said. Case law is scant on the issue, but Miller said he was convinced that the information was a public record because of several investigations under way to determine whether West acted appropriately while in office. West has not been charged with a crime, but the FBI has acknowledged it is conducting a public corruption investigation. Agents seized computers from West's home as part of their investigation. Spokane city policy allows employees to make limited use of city equipment to access the Internet for private reasons. West has said he went to during his personal time and that the visits were private. The Spokane city council also hired a lawyer to investigate whether West's computer use violated city policies. West's lawyer, Bill Etter, said he thought the judge's decision was a good one in light of the fact that West already had acknowledged going to Etter also said it was significant that some of the images were automatically cached on West's computer without his knowledge while he was logged on to the Web site. Attorney Duane Swinton, representing The Spokesman-Review, said he was pleased the judge determined the files were public records. "There is significant public interest in the performance of the mayor and the potential violation of city policy," he said. The judge rejected a motion by Swinton to release all photo images with faces blacked out. Spokane assistant city attorney Milt Rowland said he would draft an order by Monday to authorize the release of the material the judge had approved. West's lawyers had wanted the judge to block the city from releasing a second CD containing contents of the mayor's hard drive. A CD released last month with the mayor's approval showed he used the computer to look at profiles of numerous men in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia before traveling to those cities. Swinton said he would review the judge's ruling with newspaper editors before deciding whether to appeal. On May 5 the newspaper began publishing a series of articles about West's online efforts to communicate with men in gay chat rooms as well as several young men's accounts of consensual sex with the mayor or what they termed sexual harassment by him. (AP)

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