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 Gay.com 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 Gay.com 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,"
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 Gay.com
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 Gay.com.
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 Gay.com 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)