Family Policy Alliance is proud to partner with nearly 40 state-based groups, including Family Policy Institute of Washington. Joseph Backholm is the executive director. This article first appeared on FPIW’s blog.
Two days ago, FPIW’s communications director, Zach Freeman, was served legal papers naming him as a defendant in a lawsuit. The suit was filed by 10 unnamed plaintiffs, identified only as “Jane and John Does”, asking the court to prohibit the University of Washington from releasing public records that had been requested by Mr. Freeman.
Those asking for their personally identifying information to be withheld include four current or former employees of Planned Parenthood, one employee of Cedar River Clinic (a controversial late term abortion clinic) as well as an employee of Evergreen Hospital and the University of Washington.
David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, was also named as a defendant because he made a similar public records request.
Mr. Daleiden made national news last year with the release of videos showing Planned Parenthood and abortion industry executives discussing how to harvest the organs of aborted babies and maximize revenue.
Shortly after those videos were released, a group of Washington State legislators wrote two letters to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson asking him to investigate whether the parts of aborted babies were illegally being sold for a profit. (A copy of those letters can be found here and here).
After a couple of months had passed, the Attorney General wrote a memorandum to the legislators notifying them that he had done an investigation and Planned Parenthood had done nothing wrong. (A copy of that memorandum can be found here).
It is no secret that Bob Ferguson is a strong political ally of Planned Parenthood. Therefore, we thought it would be wise to verify that the evidence supported the Attorney General’s office conclusion that nothing illegal had taken place.
As a result, Mr. Freeman filed a public records request seeking information relevant to the AG’s investigation into Planned Parenthood. That request provided a number of documents, including an interaction between the AG’s office and the University of Washington from September 2015 that caught our attention.
In that correspondence, Deputy Attorney General Paige Dietrich asked Ian Goodhew, Government Relations Director at the University of Washington for “the contract you mentioned”.
Mr. Goodhew responded to this request by seeking assurances that “You will hold those confidential and not share with anyone without consent?”
In response, Ms. Dietrich said, “I don’t think we’ll need copies of the agreements.” (A copy of this correspondence can be seen here.)
While we don’t know what this contract they were referring to is, it seems plausible given the context that it would be an agreement UW had with an outside entity to procure aborted body parts.
The fact that the Attorney General’s office rescinded their request for information after UW expressed concern about that information becoming publicly available was interesting enough to warrant further investigation.
That, in addition to other things, is the reason Mr. Freeman filed the public information request with the University of Washington. Even if the Attorney General was not interested in those contracts, we decided we were.
Since they are public records, the public has the right to inspect them.
It is entirely possible that those records are innocuous and/or irrelevant to the investigation. We simply don’t know.
Still, the response to our request for those records as well as others has done nothing to dampen our curiosity.
While the requests were not intended to gather information about any individual, it is inevitable that public records will reveal the identity of people involved in public work. As a general matter, if you are having conversations with public entities you can expect that the public might discover that through public records.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim that their safety would be in jeopardy if their identities became public. They argue that because Mr. Freeman and Mr. Daleiden are pro-life that they intend to harass and/or commit violence against the individuals who might be identified in these documents.
Coming from an industry built on violence to others, this is deeply ironic. But that is beside the point.
The conversation about who is a bigger threat to whom is irrelevant to the legal question about whether anyone in Washington was illegally profiting off the sale of baby body parts.
It is possible that all relevant information will be turned over once this distraction is resolved and the public will be able to see if anything illegal is happening. It also possible that this is just an initial attempt to keep information away from the public.
We don’t know. Yet. But we intend to find out.