- Associated Press - Friday, May 30, 2014

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) - Jesse Harkcom calls himself a public records advocate.

Everett city officials, however, maintain the convicted felon is an extortionist set on perverting use of the state’s open records law in a scheme to con taxpayers out of money.

City attorneys on May 22 won a key round in their fight against him. They convinced Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George Appel to kill a couple of Harkcom’s records requests. One could have forced the city to turn over millions of pages of information.

As part of the ruling, the judge also granted Everett permission to ignore any other records requests from Harkcom over the next 10 years.

It is an unusual case brought under strange circumstances.

Harkcom is an inmate at the Thurston County Jail, awaiting sentencing for a violent home invasion robbery. While killing time in 2013, he repeatedly put pen to paper, writing nearly 50 different area governments, from Bellingham to Longview to Spokane, and state agencies, including the Lottery Commission and Liquor Control Board.

Harkcom’s records requests to Everett and the others were similar.

He sought names, ranks, salaries, and driver’s license numbers for every employee on the payroll. He claimed to want the records “in order to study the drastic financial deficit which some state employees and their actions/conduct have contributed to and which the requested records will explain.”

Harkcom made a second request in Everett, focusing on the police department. The city estimated that the request could total more than 2.5 million pages of potentially responsive records.

City attorneys Ramsey Ramerman and Katie Rathbun turned to the public records law to make their case against Harkcom.

In their pleadings, they included a letter written by the inmate and intercepted while he was behind bars. Harkcom wrote a buddy’s girlfriend in September detailing a plan to rake in millions of dollars by making numerous records requests.

As he explained in the letter, Harkcom was banking on agencies denying his requests or forgetting to include all potentially responsive records.

“If someone (we) makes a request for records and they forget to disclose a ‘little portion’ they’re (expletive), and have to pay 15.00 - 100.000 dollars per day - per record! So this brings us to the current. Say someone requested 100 thousand or 1 million records and were denied access to portions of the request, then essentially, they’d have to pay per day/per record. We’re talking millions of dollars here,” Harkcom wrote.

City officials say Harkcom tried to shake Everett down for $26,400 after it declined to provide him the driver’s license numbers of employees. Harkcom wrote that he was willing to settle the matter if the city forked over the money. He warned that they would face stiffer fines if the matter went to court.

In court papers, Ramerman said Harkcom didn’t seem interested in the information itself, focusing only on putting a price tag on the request.

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