By Scott North and Noah Haglund
In August we told you about an anonymous Internet entity who has made a series of public records requests seeking documents about several Snohomish County government officials.
The requester used the name “Edmond Thomas,” and depending on whom he or she was corresponding with, claimed to represent a couple of different companies, including one named Rue des Blancs-Manteaux, LLC. The internet addresses used by the person traced back to recently registered domains, and to the same post office drop box in Bellevue.
Last week, the county received a particularly bellicose message from “Edmond Thomas,” suggesting that he or she is nosing around in preparation for some sort of lawsuit. That may just be bluster, but we think it is time to whistle up a digital posse to see if readers can help flush this person into the open.
Perhaps somebody will have an idea on how to legally get around the Internet anonymizer tools being used? More likely, we’re betting that somebody knows something more about these requests and maybe this post will ring a bell — or strike a nerve.
It’s not against the law to disguise your identity online. Likewise, you don’t have to present a passport to gain access to the public’s records. But nowhere in the state’s records law does it suggest that poking around is a protected activity worthy of anonymity. Whomever is behind these requests is taking steps to keep from being identified. Why? What is there to hide?
The records sought by “Edmond Thomas” are similar to those that Aaron Reardon, the county’s elected executive, was forced to kick loose to Washington State Patrol detectives as part of their recent investigation into his use of public money. The records allowed deep looks into phone habits, email, daily schedules and travel expenses. In Reardon’s case, those records produced evidence insufficient to warrant criminal charges, but more than adequate to document campaigning on the public dime, lots of long, at-work phone calls with his former mistress, and the embarrassment of having to reimburse the county after putting a hotel room “intimacy kit” on his government credit card.
“Edmond Thomas” is seeking records for other people in county government, and in some cases their spouses. Those targeted were potential witnesses in the Reardon investigation or they played roles in bringing forward the information that led the State Patrol to investigate.
County prosecutors took the records request seriously and began assembling the documents. They wrote “Edmond Thomas” that materials would be provided when payment was made for the CDs containing the data. Thomas was a no show. After waiting for weeks, the prosecutor’s office on Oct. 1 wrote Thomas to declare the request closed because it appeared to have been abandoned.
On Oct. 18, the county received a lengthy reply demanding that the records be provided and accusing the prosecutor’s office of a number of records-handling violations. County officials say the accusations mischaracterize the positions they’ve taken. They’ve invited “Edmond Thomas” to come pay for the records.
The state’s records laws don’t require somebody to explain their reasons for seeking documents. “Edmond Thomas” offered one anyway.
“We are collecting information that is likely to be used in civil proceedings,” the email said.
Do tell. So a lawyer — or somebody who likes to make lawyer-like noises — is behind these requests? The Washington State Bar Association lists nobody named Edmond Thomas practicing law here.
We wrote “Edmond Thomas” in August with several questions. We never heard back. We wrote again on Friday. Here’s an excerpt:
In our message, we inquired about the companies that “Edmond Thomas” claims to represent, including blancs-manteaux.com (that outfit is spelled with a hyphen and apparently is based in a mail box in Bellevue — not to be confused with the fashion house with a similar name in Paris). Some at the county are convinced these corporate trappings are just an attempt at online misdirection. They point to indications that the records request appears to have been prepared with an insider’s knowledge of the county’s records practices.
You may be aware that requests for public records are themselves public records. We’ve been monitoring those brought by you over the past several months. As a result, we are in possession of a message you sent Oct. 18. It states that you are seeking these records in preparation for civil litigation.
Are you doing this on your own? If not, whom do you represent? What is the nature of the case you say you’re exploring? Are the taxpayers of Snohomish County likely to be named as a party?
As we noted in our earlier NTK post, many of the names of county officials and employees you want records regarding are a “who’s who” of named witnesses in the recent Washington State Patrol investigation of Aaron Reardon, the county’s elected executive. However, some are spouses of officials in the prosecutor’s office. Those women are engaged in public jobs that would appear to have nothing to do with Reardon’s imbroglio.
Why are you seeking these records? Do you have some connection to the case yourself?
Noticeably absent from your list are several employees in Reardon’s office, some of whom figured prominently in the state patrol investigation. These include his executive director Brian Parry; his spokesman Christopher Schwarzen; his former assistant Nancy Peinecke; and his executive analyst Kevin Hulten. Care to explain why you aren’t demanding records about them?
We’ve been told the requester is seeking phone logs for numbers that are internal to the county’s communication system as well as unpublished government cellphone numbers. We wrote “Edmond Thomas” to ask the obvious:
We’ve also approached folks in county government, including a Reardon spokesman. Apparently nobody knows “Edmond Thomas” or who may be behind the records request.
“Are you on the county payroll? If so, does your boss know what you are up to?”
So it’s a public records mystery. For now.