Washington: Military Department Paying $110K To Settle Marijuana Activist's Suit
By Steve Elliott
The Washington state Military Department has agreed to pay $110,000 to a King County marijuana activist and a Seattle attorney to settle a long-running public records lawsuit centered around the Washington National Guard's counterdrug task force.
Activist John Worthington of Renton and attorney William Crittenden sought the release of flight records and other documents, reports Adam Ashton at the Tacoma News Tribune.
Worthington, 51, had tried to get the records since 2008 under Washington's Public Records Act, which applies to state agencies. King County Sheriff's deputies seized six marijuana plants from Worthington's home in 2007.
"They went after me because I'm an activist, and I've been terrorized out of growing," Worthington told the Seattle PI at the time, reports Curtis Cartier at Seattle Weekly. "I can't have my kids frisked like they're criminals. That was disgusting. I'm not Al Capone -- I'm a dad."
The National Guard wasn't involved in that raid, but Worthington views the Guard's involvement as a federal entity in a state counterdrug task force as a violation of federal law prohibiting military authorities from participating in domestic law enforcement.
The National Guard repeatedly denied Worthington's requests under the state Public Records law, telling him to file them under the federal Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), which applies to the Defense Department.
Crittenden argued that federal law should only apply when the Guard is called up for federal duty, such as an overseas deployment. FOIA, the federal open records law, is more difficult to use and takes longer than state open government measures, which is one reason he and Worthington pursued the case under state law.
The case had crept through state and federal courts since 2010. Worthington and the state Military Department finally reached an agreement last month, which does not commit the Guard to turning over records through the Public Records Act in the future.
“They didn’t appear to have any coherent theory about why these were federal records,” Crittenden said. “They just always assumed they were. When someone like John Worthington challenged that assumption, they made up a bunch of inconsistent legal arguments and attempted to prevent the issue from ever being ruled on.”
Worthington got some of the records he sought through the Freedom of Information Act during the course of his lawsuit and others from the Public Records Act, according to a Guard spokeswoman.
Guard officials claim the case doesn't necessarily set a precedent, even for the counterdrug task force.
"We're still in a dilemma," said Lt. Col. Matt Cooper, a Washington National Guard attorney. The Guard's activities clearly fall under state open government laws when citizens soldiers are called up to respond to a domestic emergency, Cooper said.
Similarly, Guard activities are obviously federal when citizen soldiers are training for deployments or serving overseas. But the Guard also has several "mixed activities" that can create "unclear recordkeeping," Cooper said.
For instance, citizen soldiers and airmen can be called to active duty for federal assignments on local soil, such as a cyber defense unit located at Camp Murray in Lakewood, he said.
"It's very unclear," Cooper said. “These two systems are somewhat mutually exclusive when it comes to handling certain kinds of information.”
The National Guard Bureau coordinates a state-by-state counterdrug mission in coordination with governors. The military claims drugs are a potential source of funding for terrorism.
Graphic: Fred's Patch Corner