Langley’s offer of $50K to settle records lawsuits is rejected

Eric Hood sued the city over public records in 2016, 2019 and 2021. All three are unresolved.

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LANGLEY — A Whidbey Island man with three outstanding lawsuits against the city of Langley for alleged Public Records Act violations turned down a proposed $50,000 settlement, describing it as a bribe to hide the actions and liability of the city’s attorneys, according to a letter from attorney William Crittenden.

“Hood is fed up with the utterly corrupt municipal attorney practice that this ‘offer’ represents,” wrote Crittenden, who represents Eric Hood.

Hood has filed dozens of public records lawsuits against agencies big and small across the state over the past decade — with a great degree of success. He filed suits against Langley in 2016, 2019 and 2021, all of which are unresolved.

Langley Mayor Scott Chaplin said he is a strong supporter of open government, but he doesn’t agree with everything in the letter from Hood’s attorney.

Chaplin and the council met in executive session earlier this month to discuss the latest developments. The city’s attorney, Ann Marie Soto, is crafting a response.

Hood and Crittenden argue that it is “unethical and tortious” for municipalities to be represented by attorneys through the Risk Management Service Agency, or RMSA, which is a risk pool representing city and towns in the state. The agency provides attorneys to fight Public Records Act cases but then doesn’t cover the resulting penalties. Hood and his attorney claim that the result is attorneys who are free to provide bad advice and claim frivolous defenses, but then municipalities are left with the tabs.

In a Sept. 8 letter, Hood and Crittenden made several unorthodox demands. They want the city to hire an independent attorney, acquire all litigation files from its attorneys in cases against Hood, file court documents admitting the city violated the Public Records Act and delete all “frivolous defenses” from a former attorney in court files.

Soto, who represents the city through RMSA, sent a response on the city’s behalf in November. She took over the cases from a former RMSA attorney who was the target of many complaints from Hood and Crittenden.

Soto’s letter offered $50,000 as a global resolution of the three cases, but she wrote that the other issues were outside the scope of the litigation.

“While Mr. Hood may disapprove of the City’s insurance arrangements and legal counsel, he does not have standing to challenge these ancillary matters,” she wrote. “Simply put, the City’s choice of insurance coverage, decisions whether to retain independent counsel, and requests to its attorneys for their files are the City’s to make, not Mr. Hood’s.”

Crittenden and Hood strongly disagreed, pointing to several cases in which government entities were ordered by courts or agreed to change their policies and behaviors in response to Public Records Act complaints.

“In other words,” Crittenden wrote, “Ms. Soto responded to Mr. Hood’s entirely appropriate demands for changes to the way the City of Langley operates by offering Mr. Hood a large amount of money to just shut up and go away.”

The letter states that Hood’s response to the city’s offer is “a resounding no.”

Since September, five other agencies sued by Hood “have been forced to throw in the towel” and settled, the letter states.

“Hood is not going to tolerate this blatant corruption in his own hometown. Hood now has a litigation ‘war chest’ and one of the best PRA attorneys in the state,” Crittenden wrote, apparently referring to himself.

This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sibling of The Daily Herald.

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