Prosecutors: Records in Harassment Settlement Involving Judge Should Be Released in Full

By The Chronicle

In response to a lawsuit filed by former Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt to stop the release of portions of a sexual harassment complaint against him that was settled out of court last year, the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office has stated that it believes the records should be released in their entirety.

Hunt, who denies the allegations, filed a request for an injunction Jan. 25 in Lewis County Superior Court asking that portions of the documents related to personal medical information be redacted before the documents are released following a public records request by The Chronicle.

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The prosecutor’s office filed its response to Hunt’s suit Tuesday. While private medical records are typically exempt from disclosure, the prosecutor’s office believes the material Hunt references does not meet the qualifications under the Public Records Act.

“The PRA does not permit an agency to refuse to produce such information unless it is specifically exempt from production,” the county’s response reads. “Lewis County does not believe the information sought to be redacted here is exempt.”

The Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office has also filed a motion to add The Chronicle, in particular Assistant Editor Natalie Johnson, as a defendant to the lawsuit. If approved by a judge, that means Hunt would also be suing The Chronicle to prevent the release of the unredacted documents.

“The only reason for the controversy between Judge Hunt and Lewis County is Ms. Johnson’s PRA request, which requires Lewis County to produce the public record at issue,” the motion written by Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg states.

The prosecutor’s office served Johnson with paperwork in the case at the Lewis County Law and Justice Center Tuesday.

“Moreover, our state Supreme Court has implied that without the requestor’s joinder, no one has an incentive to zealously advocate for the release of the records and the proceedings would not be truly adversarial,” Eisenberg wrote. “Lewis County has no strong interest in whether these records are produced redacted or unredacted, other than its duty to follow the law as best it can.”

Hunt’s request for an injunction is set to come before Judge Michael Evans at 9 a.m. Thursday morning in Cowlitz County Superior Court..

The Chronicle filed a public records request with Lewis County on Dec. 21 asking for all documents related to a settlement with former Lewis County Drug Court Manager Jennifer Soper-Baker.

On Jan. 25, Hunt filed an injunction to halt the release of those records, citing “protected, personal medical information.” He asks that several lines in two documents be redacted before release.

While The Chronicle has not yet obtained information about the settlement, Hunt’s request outlined some basic details.

“The claim is 10 pages in length and essentially divided into two parts. The first part alleges that the judges and other official (sic) of Lewis County failed to adequately protect her when she was feeling threatened by a coworker,” Hunt wrote. “The second section alleged that for nine years, 2007 to 2016, that the plaintiff (Hunt) engaged in a course of sexual harassment.”

According to Hunt, the county rejected the tort claim. Soper-Baker and her attorney shared a draft complaint, a document filed as part of a lawsuit, with the county which repeated allegations in the tort claim.

The matter went into mediation and was settled out of court by the County Risk Pool in 2017.

“Judge Hunt is asking only that this information be redacted from the requested documents, meaning that he agrees the remaining, vast majority of the allegations are subject to disclosure regardless of the truth or falsity of those remaining allegations,” Hunt’s request states.