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“Since our office received your first request for information, we have, along with the Office of Stadium Administration, attempted to provide you with access to all of the information you were seeking,” he wrote. “Mr. Yousoufian, my staff and I are more than happy to make available to you any disclosable information.”

Records response

In fact, the documents were withheld for several more years until after Mr. Yousoufian sued and won, court records show.

On Jan. 15, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the refusals by Mr. Sims‘ office to make the requested documents public constituted “blatant violations of the state Public Records Act.” It also said the lower court “abused its discretion” by imposing a $15-a-day penalty in response to the “grossly negligent noncompliance” by Mr. Sims‘ office. The high court suggested, instead, that under the law, the penalty could be as high as $100 a day, which would increase the fine to $825,000.

State Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Sanders wrote that the actions of Mr. Sims‘ office were “so egregious” as to warrant a fine at the “high end” of the act’s penalty range. He said the unchallenged findings of fact demonstrated that Mr. Sims‘ office “repeatedly deceived and misinformed” Mr. Yousoufian.

King County failed to reply to Yousoufians clear request promptly or accurately,” Justice Sanders said. “King County either made no explanation of its noncompliance or misrepresented the truth. The potential for public harm was high; the requested records tested the veracity of King Countys assertions regarding a pending referendum on a $300 million public financing scheme.”

The justices sent the case back to Superior Court with a recommendation to increase the penalty.

Noting that Mr. Yousoufian wanted documents concerning a then-pending referendum, Justice Sanders said the decision to delay disclosure for years beyond the election day was “without justification.” He also said that “with proper diligence and attention,” Mr. Sims‘ office could have responded accurately to the Yousoufian request “within five days.”

Recent request

Mr. Sims has been at the center of controversy during much of his term as the top executive of Washington state’s largest county. A Virginia-based public watchdog group, Americans for Limited Government, has been urging members of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee to question Mr. Sims about the public-records case and other issues during his tenure.

“The least the Senate can do is to hold up Mr. Sims nomination so that members can get to the bottom of this controversy by asking more questions of the nominee - under penalty of perjury,” ALG President William Wilson said.

Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican and a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, also has raised questions concerning Mr. Sims‘ involvement in the public records case.

“In response to my questions about this issue, Mr. Sims replied that he wasnt at liberty to comment on the subject,” Mr. Vitter said in a statement. The following day, however, he spoke in some detail about Qwest Field in a television interview.

“President Obama has pledged to ensure transparency in his administration, but Mr. Sims responses to me and to the TV crew just dont seem to be in keeping with that promise,” he said. “Court records clearly detail his involvement.”

Vitter spokesman Joel DiGrado said the senator has not put a hold on the nomination but was looking for his concerns to be addressed.

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