Washington Union Fined $15,000 for Non-Disclosure

Published April 1, 1999

The Thurston County Superior Court fined the Washington Education Association (WEA) $15,000 on February 26 for failing to turn over a document detailing the union’s political plan for the 1996 elections. The WEA had denied the existence of such a document, and lawyers for the union argued that a high-ranking WEA staff member “forgot” to check her computer for the existence of such a document.

“This document is as close to a smoking gun as you can get,” said Thurston County Superior Court Judge William Thomas McPhee.

The document was first requested by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) in November 1997 as part of its legal action aimed at declaring the WEA a political action committee. EFF sought the key document because of the union leadership’s extensive involvement in state and national politicking. The foundation finally received the political plan in February 1999, months past the deadline the court had imposed for turning over the document.

EFF attorney Steve O’Ban told McPhee that the political plan is essential to his client’s ability to depose witnesses in its case. McPhee concurred, adding that a computer is “such an obvious place to look. In this day and age, to look for documents on a word processing machine . . . seems to not be an understandable omission.”

The judge called the WEA’s political plan “a road map for discovery.” In handing down his ruling, McPhee said he did not find union attorneys had assisted in concealing the political plan.

“I’m less concerned about the activities of the lawyers here than I am of the members of this vast and far-flung organization,” McPhee said.

In addition to the $15,000 fine, McPhee ordered the WEA to pay the legal fees EFF will incur to re-depose a minimum of eight witnesses concerning their involvement in the 1996 elections. Despite the document’s release to EFF, it will not be available to the general public, since the WEA has arranged for the case to include a protective order barring further disclosure.