Cowlitz Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning again stayed the release of the information of Cowlitz County’s level 1 sex offenders to a Kelso man on Wednesday, but Curtis Hart will likely either have the records — or a trial case in the Court of Appeals to get them — by the end of the month.
Warning said he hopes to have the case “put to bed by the end of the month, at least at this (court) level,” and set a hearing for Oct. 24 to present an order on the case. He found last week that Hart was entitled to receive the information but delayed the actual release of the records to give attorneys time to respond.
Attorney Joshua Baldwin said he plans to file both a motion for Warning to reconsider his decision and an appeal of his original decision. He is one of several attorneys representing about 55 anonymous “John Doe” plaintiffs who filed for injunctions in previous weeks to prevent Hart from obtaining their information.
“We’re arguing the judge at the trial level can consider the motive (of the requester),” Baldwin told The Daily News on Wednesday. “If the court finds, as the judge did, that somebody is going to misuse public records, there should be a mechanism under the law to prevent the release.”
Warning said last week he has “no doubt in (his) mind” that Curtis Hart will make “childish, irresponsible, vindictive and immature use” of the records, but reluctantly found Hart was entitled to them.
In response to Baldwin, Hart told The Daily News that “If it’s a public record ... it’s a public record.”
“If Baldwin thinks the law needs to be changed he needs to take that issue up with our misguided and priority-lacking legislators,” Hart said over Facebook Messenger on Wednesday. “I’m not planning on ‘misusing’ any records. I simply plan on publishing public records. That is it.”
Hart requested on Aug. 14 that the sheriff’s office give him the names of all level 1 sex offenders, those least likely to re-offend, in Cowlitz County. He has said he plans to publish the list on the internet. His request triggered a flood of phone calls to the sheriff’s office from sex offenders named in the records concerned about Hart’s list prompting retaliation against them.
Under state law, only level 2 and level 3 (medium and high-risk) offenders are published on the sheriff’s office offender registry website. Except for out-of-compliance and transient offenders, level 1 sex offenders are omitted. But their information is not exempt from the state public disclosure act.
Hart told The Daily News in September that he doesn’t advocate violence against the offenders, but doubts many of the offenders are capable of reform. He has acted as a sex offender vigilante through his “Punisher Squad,” which has baited several would-be offenders, leading to at least three individuals being arrested and charged.
The plantiffs’ appeal could send Hart’s request to Washington’s Court of Appeals. In 2016, the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Donna Zink, a Mesa woman who requested and eventually obtained the names of all 21,000 Level 1 sex offenders across Washington state.
Baldwin’s case for the Court of Appeals, he said, will focus on the lack of established case law in Washington’s Public Records Act, and the potential risks and benefits of Hart obtaining the information.
Baldwin told Warning in court that there is “significant harm if the records are released, (and) little if any harm to the person (Hart) requesting the release.”
He also noted that parts of Hart’s request are already publicly available. Zink has already posted a list of 579 level 1 sex offenders in Cowlitz County on social media.
Hart’s request would obtain the same information, as well as photos, brief descriptions of crimes, and addresses which are not included in Zink’s posted information. Hart said he hasn’t decided how specific he’ll be with the addresses of offenders in his posts.