Judge rules to release Woodinville Fire Commissioner's file
by Jeff Switzer
A King County Superior Court Judge has ruled that the disciplinary action in Fire Commissioner David Callon's personnel file should be released to the public, along with test information while he was a part-paid volunteer.
Local resident Mary Baum, who served as the unofficial chair and spokesperson of the recently disbanded Citizens Advisory Committee, now has access to the file and was awarded $2,500 of her $3,500 in attorney fees for the case.
Superior Court Judge Charles W. Mertel reviewed the Fire District's request for a protective order for the files, the equivalent of substituting the court's decision for theirs on whether to disclose or withhold information.
The legal argument by the district for exempting the files from the Freedom of Information Act cited cases in which complaints were brought against police officers for their actions on the line, and contended that Callon's theft of a knife sheath, and the subsequent telling the firefighter in charge of equipment, differed in public interest.
Judge Mertel did not agree.
"Because of his position as an elected Commissioner in the Fire District, the public has a legitimate and reasonable interest in the internal investigation and disciplinary proceeding documents concerning Callon," Mertel wrote in his conclusions.
Judge Mertel said the seven documents of the internal investigation and disciplinary action "...do not contain information which would be highly offensive to a reasonable person," one of the thresholds for exemption.
Included in Judge Mertel's review were six separate issues of the Woodinville Weekly, dated Apr. 8, Apr. 15, June 24, July 8, Oct. 21, and Dec. 9 of this year, including letters to the editor and the Dec. 9 interview with Commissioner Callon about his personnel file.
Clark Snure, attorney with the Fire District, said Judge Mertel ruled Callon had no right to privacy as a Commissioner, and that any rights he did have were waived when he talked to the press.
"Our concern at this point is whether all disciplinary actions are subject to public scrutiny," said Snure. "This did not start as a public complaint, it was strictly an internal investigation."
The Fire District has the ability to appeal the decision to the next level, but Snure questioned whether the $2,500 in court fees would be worth an appeal. As for the substance of the decision, the district may seek reconsideration rather than an appeal.
"Principle is great, when you can afford it," Snure said, who believes the judge did not have enough time to study the case, spending only 20 minutes reviewing the briefs.
Snure said the case was scheduled before another judge, but when they appeared in court Monday morning, that judge had not heard of the case and deferred to the presiding judge, Charles Mertel.
Judge Mertel ruled the district failed to establish the documents "would clearly not be in the public interest and would substantially and irreparably damage any person, or would substantially and irreparably damage vital government functions."